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County OKs tax increase

The Newton County Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 to adopt a 5 percent tax increase as part of its new annual budget.
Only seven residents attended the final budget hearing Thursday, but nobody said a word.

Commissioner John Douglas voted against the new budget, offering a “substitute motion” that called for a lower millage rate than proposed by the remainder of the commission. The approved ordinance lowers the millage from 11.54 last year to 11.225, but requires a tax increase of 4.99 percent. That translates to $19.24 on a $100,000 house.

Douglas asked the commissioners to instead adopt a millage rate of 10.65, which was the rate in 2013.

“I want everybody to make sure to read their (commissioners’) packets. Note the property tax increase,” Douglas said. “Know what we’re voting on.”

Douglas said commissioners had promised last year to lower this year’s millage to 2013’s rate. He said he wanted to keep that promise.

Some highlights of the budget include a 2 percent merit raise for county employees, the elimination of five required employee furlough days, updated computer software, $46,000 more for the chamber of commerce, and $25,000 for books at the library.

“The east side of the county is the most heavily populated, but that library has empty shelves,” Commission Chairman Keith Ellis said.

A request by the Newton Medical Center for the restoration of .3 mills to their budget was not discussed at Thursday’s hearing, and therefore was not included in the approved document. The hospital had asked for 1.5 mills to collect an additional $600,000 to provide for indigent care. The approved millage allocation for the hospital was 1.2.

Additional millage rates were adopted for Emergency Medical Services (.451, the same as last year), the state of Georgia (.1 mills, down from .15 in the past fiscal year), and Newton County Fire Services (.792 mills, the same as last year).
The county’s total millage, therefore, will be 12.976, down from 13.341 last year.

The county expects to collect $22,177,429 in taxes under the new budget, up from $21,339,381 last year.