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Covington council awaiting digest numbers to set property tax rate
Approved 2021 General Fund budget that is almost 5% larger than 2020
Covington City Hall - WEB

COVINGTON, Ga. — Covington City Council is awaiting final tax digest totals from the county tax commissioner’s office to set a property tax rate after recently approving a 2021 budget.

The council will schedule hearings on a proposed property tax rate to help fund the budget after it and other local governments and the school district receive the new tax digest numbers in early July, officials said.

City finance officials have not determined if any changes will be needed in the property tax rate, said Finance Director Randy Smith. 

To determine a number for revenues in the 2021 budget, Smith said city officials used the prior year’s tax digest and multiplied it by the historical collection rate of 98% to determine estimated revenues from property taxes in the 2021 fiscal year which begins July 1, he said.

Council members on June 15 voted to approve a $128.3 million budget for 2021 that increased very little overall from its $128.3 million budget council approved in 2020.

The 2021 plan includes increases in the General Fund, which totaled $26 million and was 4.6% higher than 2020’s $24.9 million; and decreases in its Capital Projects Fund from $5.3 million to $1.87 million. 

Among the items the council approved in the 2021 plan were an annual step pay increase of 3% for employees — which became a 1.3% increase after retirements and employees topping out on the pay scale were factored in, Smith said.

In addition, the council only needed to increase its budget by 5% to account for rising employee insurance premium costs, he said. 

Premiums were expected to increase by about 13% in 2021 but money reserved for rising premiums in the 2020 budget could be carried over to 2021 after it was not needed when premiums did not rise as expected, Smith said.

According to the budget document, sizable increases were approved in parts of the General Fund, such as in Data/IT for systems development maintenance; while cuts were made in such areas as Administration and Recreation.   

Some big-ticket capital expenditures in the 2021 budget include water main replacements on the Covington Square, $1.5 million; and SPLOST-funded projects totaling $1.5 million for paving, $1 million for trails, and $1.3 million for Industrial Boulevard work.

The council also budgeted about $900,000 it formerly paid the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce to do industrial recruitment and downtown development and tourism work in the city.

It budgeted $293,000 for Economic Development, and $609,000 for the city’s Main Street program and tourism efforts and will administer all those functions itself after the city council earlier this year voted to take them on. 

The city paid the Chamber the same amounts in 2020 that were budgeted in 2021 from hotel-motel tax revenues to administer the downtown development and tourism programs, Smith said.

It also took the same amount of funding it paid the Chamber in 2020 for economic development work and placed it in the 2021 budget to recruit new and expanding retail and industrial prospects to Covington, the finance director said.

The 2021 budget expected hotel-motel tax revenues to be half of what was included in the 2020 budget. 

It expected $422,000 to be collected in the year beginning July 1, 2020 — down from $844,000 in the 2020 amended budget between July 1, 2019, and June 30 of this year.