The Newton County Board of Commissioners received a glimmer of good news Monday night, when it learned the property tax digest may decline 8.25 percent next year instead of the projected 10 percent.
Chief Tax Appraiser Tommy Knight urged caution, but said it looked like the digest decline will be under 10 percent. Many tax appraisal appeals are pending, including some large commercial and industrial accounts.
Assuming an 8.25 percent decline, the county would have an additional $451,681 to work with, or $44.17 million overall. The county would still need to cut $2.13 million from the current $46.3 million proposed budget or raise the property tax rate.
Fleming breaks down budget
Commissioners Mort Ewing and Tim Fleming have been adamant against raising the millage rate, and both have said funding services mandated by state and federal government should be the priority.
Fleming took the step Monday of dividing the county's departments and various appropriations the county gives to organizations into mandated and non-mandated categories (see it here.).
Fleming said he wants to fund all mandated departments, including public safety, public works and court services at their current levels, which would take $37.56 million of the budget.
Other mandated appropriations and various debt obligations would eat up an additional $5.66 million, though some of those could still be cut partially, Fleming said.
Other necessities, like information systems and facility maintenance, take up another $1.34 million
All those categories add up to $44.57 million, which is above the most optimistic revenue projection. This does not take into account any fees the county may adopt next year.
The library, school resource officers and several smaller line items - the extension service, Factory Shoals Park, Head Start, Newton County Community Partnership and Washington Street Community Center - are left at a combined cost this year of $2 million. Fleming did say he wanted to fund the library, but did not indicate at what level.
School resource officers are paid for by the Newton County School System, but that $664,578 figure still has to fit into the bottom line for revenue.
Will the millage rate get raised?
Chairman Kathy Morgan has recommended a 12.12 rollback millage rate, which would collect the same in property taxes as last year, but Commissioners J.C. Henderson, Lanier Sims, Nancy Schulz will all to have agree to make it a reality.
Henderson was absent, and Sims and Schulz both said they will consider a rollback rate budget and a budget with no millage rate increase. Sims said he was leaning toward the rollback rate, because he was concerned about public safety funding, while Schulz said she was concerned the county could cut services too far without any tax increase.
Commissioners may be swayed by Morgan's estimate that the county could have to cut 80 jobs, instead of 52 as previously projected, to make up the budget deficit, because any employees cut would be eligible to receive unemployment, which would increase expenses.
Morgan reiterated that she does not want to cut jobs and wants the board to choose the rollback millage rate of 12.12, up from 10.91.
If commissioners do want to make cuts beyond the 12.12 rate, Morgan asked that they present those requests in writing or by email.
The next budget meeting will at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Historic Courthouse.