The Newton County Board of Commissioners narrowly passed a 2016 budget Monday, raising property taxes by 21.87 over the rollback rate percent and 4.1 percent over last year for a total millage rate of 13.491.
That millage includes 12.99 for county operations, .451 for emergency services, .05 for the state, and .842 for fire services. The budget is $53.7 million, representing a $6 million increase.
Two substitute motions by Commissioner John Douglas to set the millage lower or table the budget for a month for further study died for lack of support. Douglas and Commissioner J.C. Henderson both voted against the 13.491 millage, while Commissioners Lanier Sims, Nancy Schulz, and Levie Maddox voted in favor of it.
The deadline to present the approved millage rate to the state falls on August 3 this year.
The commissioners who support the new budget have argued that it reflects actual spending, while past budgets were inaccurate. The new budget also includes pay raises for the Sheriff's Office and county employees.
"Make no mistake, this budget is not perfect and we need to continue to work together," said Schulz, calling for a meeting within the next 60 days to assess a strategic plan for the county.
But several citizens expressed anger at the increase, which will amount to a $70 increase for a $100,000 home without a homestead exception and $20 for a $100,000 home with a homestead exception.
Aaron Brooks called the budget "irresponsible."
"This is not good for Newton County's future; it's not good for the citizens of Newton County, and it's not good for what we want coming to Newton County," he said.
Barbara Morgan said that while she was not personally opposed to a tax increase if necessary, but only if the county “asks the right questions.”
Morgan questioned the necessity of the proposed Bear Creek reservoir, the managing of the landfill, and legal costs.
“Are you sure this is the best we can do?” she asked the board.