COVINGTON, Ga. – The Newton County Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday night to hold the county’s millage rate at its current 13.441.
The unanimous vote came after months of wrangling and negotiations which saw proposed millage rates as high as 14.01.
A vote on a 13.95 millage was tabled by a 3-2 vote earlier after District 1 Commissioner Stan Edwards proposed a budget that held the millage at 13.441.
“The taxpayers of this county need some type of small victory. And this board needs some type of small victory. I believe keeping the millage rate at 13.441 would represent that victory and help to re-instill some of the confidence that we’ve lost- including my self- over the years," Edwards said prior to that vote.
In a statement to The Covington News Thursday, Edwards said commissioners chose to side with taxpayers by maintaining the current rate.
“I think this budget cycle saw this board yield to the wishes of the taxpayers more so than I remember last year,” he said. “This board took a calculated risk and we will have to own the outcome - me more so than anyone probably and that's fine. We implemented new policy as well.”
The new budget fully funds market pay salary adjustments for county employees. The raises will be given in two steps with employees receiving 60 percent effective July 1 and 40 percent Jan. 1 2019. It also adds new positions in the tax assessor’s office, human resources, facilities, roads and development services.
Magistrate, probate and juvenile courts along with the district attorney's office will also get new positions under the budget. Public safety gets the largest number of new slots with the sheriff’s office receiving 19 new positions for patrol deputies and the jail while fire services get spots for 12 new firefighters.
Edwards said the new positions will be funded only after they are filled, saving money.
“That will save money because in the past, they were funded on 7/1 of the fiscal year and the positions may have been filled eight months later, for example,” he said.
The budget calls for total expenditures of $64,831,066 in FY 2019. It uses the $937,500 the county received as proceeds from the Facebook deal. Edwards indicated that using the one time Facebook payment was not ideal but necessary to hold the millage rate down.
“This goes against all common sense for me but... it buys us a year to discover ways to cut expenses, prove or disprove my staffing theories, and find/utilize other avenues of revenue. It's risky and it means no room for error in the coming 10.5 months,” he said.
Despite commissioners holding the line on the millage rate, Newton County property owners could still see a tax hike this year due to increases in property assessments.