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Newton commissioners OK 6% budget increase for 2021
Spending plan assumes decrease in last year's property tax rate to help fund it
Newton County Historic Courthouse
Newton County Historic Courthouse - Mason Wittner | The Covington News

The county government will operate on a 2021 budget that is almost 6% larger than the 2020 document and includes funding for new fire stations and employees.

It also assumes a property tax rate that is 4% below last year’s rate. 

Newton County commissioners voted Tuesday, July 21, to approve a $104.6 million budget for 2021 that is 5.8% larger than 2020 — including a $3 million increase in the General Fund.

It includes $2.2 million in funding for 69 new employees, including seven new sheriff's deputies and 18 new firefighters, according to county officials and documents on the county website.

The new firefighters will help man new stations on Gum Creek Road in northern Newton County, and Big Woods Road in Starrsville in eastern Newton; and a renovated station No. 2 in southern Newton.

It also includes step level raises for some of the county’s 700 employees totaling $1.6 million; and a health insurance premium increase of about $618,000.

The budget has a 24% increase in the animal services department; and 13% increase in senior services. It contains a 22% increase for the district attorney’s office and 26% increase for the Probate Court.

It also has $370,000 for new vehicles for the sheriff’s office.

District 3 Commissioner Nancy Schulz, who was considering her final budget before leaving office in December, said the board had to compromise after seeing an original budget that “not all were comfortable with.”

“I do not believe compromise is bad at all,” she said. “I think it shows strength.

District 1 Commissioner Stan Edwards had favored fewer new hires but said he had been willing to compromise.

“This won’t be District 1’s personal favorite,” he said. “But I believe it’s a budget we all can live with.”

County officials revised the budget multiple times since its introduction earlier this year and had settled on a $105.6 million budget in June.

The June budget assumed a property tax rate that was unchanged from last year’s 13.43 mills but that would have amounted to a tax hike because of the increased revenue produced from rising property values since 2019.

County commissioners said they had concerns about approving a budget that included a tax increase at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic had negatively affected many households’ finances.

County Manager Lloyd Kerr and Finance Director Britney White then cut $1.07 million planned for purchase of a new computer server and other items.

However, when the tax digest numbers were released early this month, they showed that more revenue would potentially come in from property taxes than originally believed, White said.

That allowed finance officials to recommend a revised budget that totaled $104.58 million and was based on a property tax rate of 12.917 mills, White said.