County commissioners reached an informal consensus Thursday night to raise the millage rate to 11.59 next year to account for a projected decline in overall property values and spare what they felt were too deep of cuts to the budget.
Amidst bouts of roaring thunder and contentious conversations about side issues, Chairman Keith Ellis wrapped up the two-hour work session – the board’s seventh this year – by finding common ground among three commissioners who supported the rollback millage rate of 11.59. (Rollback is the term used when the millage rate changes by the amount needed to make up for either a decline or increase in property tax values.)
Commissioner Levie Maddox, Nancy Schulz and Lanier Sims supported a version of the budget prepared by County Manager John Middleton.
Commissioner John Douglas supported a budget that would have kept the millage rate at 10.91 and cut 5 percent from every department with the exception of the sheriff’s department.
Commissioner J.C. Henderson didn’t support any of the four budgets proposed Thursday, because they all called for charging residents some sort of fee to use the recycling centers, which Henderson felt was unfair since there had been no public hearing. The county has not for sure decided to institute such a fee, but officials are planning an intense study of the landfill and recycling centers to see if extra revenue can be generated or money can be saved.
The millage rate and budget will have to officially be voted on later, but the 3-2 consensus makes it likely the county will see its first millage rate increase since 2010. The county’s overall tax digest – the value of all land, buildings, vehicles, timber and heavy equipment – has declined by around $1 billion since the housing collapse.
However, not everyone’s property values declined in 2013, as some residential areas of the county have begun to stabilize.
If a home valued at $100,000 did not have its value change at all, that home’s owner would pay $27 more in county property taxes this year.
Another concern of officials is the effect the increased rate would have on local businesses and industries.
However, in the end, the cuts necessary to keep the rate at 10.91 – which likely would have included personnel cuts and reductions to multiple county services – were too great for the majority of the board.
To see the consensus budget, click on the PDFs above.