COVINGTON, Ga. – Members of the Newton County Board of Commissioners were told Tuesday evening a tax increase will be necessary to fund county operations and pay salaries during the next fiscal year.
County Manager Lloyd Kerr told commissioners this year’s budget includes only what is necessary to provide county services.
“We did scrub this budget pretty thoroughly to take out any fluff that we could determine that was in the budget,” he said. “And we did ask that department heads give us what they need, not necessarily what they want, but what they need in order to continue providing services.
“I think you’ll see, as we have, that we’ve made every effort to keep this budget in line and that we’re only seeking funds that we need to provide services to the public.”
Kerr said the county is continuing to recover from the economic downturn 10 years ago.
“In 2008-2009, we peaked at about $2.9 billion for our digest,” he said. “And today, we’re roughly at $2.3 (billion). The 2.3 is based on a millage rate of 13.441. The 2008 millage rate was at was 9.73. So we still have a ways to go and we are improving, but we have not fully recovered from the downturn in the economy.
“Our property values are coming back at a slower rate than a lot of the rest of metropolitan Atlanta, but we are moving in a positive direction. It will just take a little bit longer for us to get back to the point where we were 10 years ago.”
Finance Director Nicole Cross said the fiscal year 2019 budget includes $2.4 million in salary and benefit costs related to a recent salary market study and a commitment to public safety.
“It includes $1.279 million to fund additional public safety positions,” she said. “That includes eight firefighters/EMT, three fire lieutenants/EMT, 11 deputy sheriffs and four detention officers.”
Kerr said employee raises related to the market assessment are designed to get all county employees to the minimum of the market rate.
“What we did was take a look at it and say we wanted to bring employees to the minimum level so that we can be competitive with the market,” he said. “But no less than 5 percent.
“At this point, what we’re trying to do is catch up and make up for the nine years or so that county employees had no increases, which is what put us so far behind in most instances.”
This year’s proposed budget is $66,002,334. That’s 10.37 percent more than last year’s $59,801,770. Cross said a millage rate increase is necessary to fund the budget.
“Based on the estimates that we have received from our digest and what in this budget our departments have said what needs to operate, we would need to have a millage rate increase,” she said. “ So the 2018 millage was 13.441. To fully fund this budget, the millage rate would need to increase to 14.441.”
The BOC will hold a public hearing on the budget Tuesday, June 5 at 7 p.m. Commissioners are scheduled to vote on the budget June 19 at 7 p.m.