The Newton County Board of Commissioners (BOC) did not levee a fee or tax for the use of the county’s convenience centers at its regular meeting Tuesday, and will rely on the newly reformed Solid Waste Authority (SWA) to adopt a fee.
At its last budget work session, the BOC discussed assessing a $50 fee for the use of the trash collection sites on each property bill throughout the county’s 44,644 parcels. That fee would bring in $2,232,200, significantly cutting into a shortfall on the fiscal year 2017 budget.
The proposed fee on everyone’s bill would not be legally sound, said Aaron Meyer, an attorney specializing in tax law with Jarrard and Davis, told the BOC during a work session before the meeting.
“It is our conclusion a flat fee passed across the county might not pass scrutiny as a fee.” Meyer said. “It might be better to pass a tax in the same manner you would raise millage rates.”
He went on to explain that the fee could be deemed a tax by a court of law, nullifying it.
“The issue about whether or not a fee is classified as a tax or a fee has real legal significance in that if its passed as a fee and later a court deems it labeled a tax it would be invalid unless it went through two public hearings and notification notice,” Meyer said.
Newton County Tax Commissioner Barbara Dingler laid out what several levels of a tax would bring in to the county. With the county wide digest for 2016 bringing in $21,662,753.12, Dingler said a 1 mill tax would generate $2,166,275.31; a 0.75 mill would generate $1,624,706.48; and a 0.5 mill would generate $1,831,376.
If the tax would be assessed through a millage rate, it would need to be assessed for the whole county, according to Meyer. That means commercial and industrial properties would also be taxed. With a millage rate bringing in a percentage of assessed property value, owners of smaller homes would pay less than larger, and owners of larger homes would pay less than commercial property owners.
“If it was a $100,000 house, and there was a 1 mill tax, the actual dollar value is $11.52,” Newton County Chair Keith Ellis said. “So obviously we would be putting the brunt of it back on commercial business and industrial.”
The millage rate is an amount per $1,000 used to calculate taxes on a property, and how a government produces its tax revenue.
If a millage rate was levied as a tax for the convenience centers, an agreement would need to be made with the SWA that the funds generated from the taxes would be transferred to that authority. The county has a similar arrangement with the ambulance service.
The SWA was reactivated by the BOC in January, its board of directors named in March and held its first meeting on April 25. The authority was created after recommendations from a citizens committee that was formed last year. The county charged the SWA with handling the all matters of the county’s solid waste including the convenience centers and landfill, and Tuesday the commissioners elected to have it handle the task of assessing a fee.
“If you don’t give the SWA the ability to performed operations as envisioned what is the purpose of forming the SWA,” Levie Maddox, District 5 Commissioner said.
When asked by Ellis what the board’s pleasure was in going forward with a tax, fee or no change at all for the convenience centers, Maddox was one of several commissioners in favor of having the SWA decide.
“I think the most unfair way to do it is through a millage rate application,” Maddox said.
Commissioners Lanier Sims and Nancy Schulz, of districts 2 and 3, respectively, also were opposed to a millage rate application.
“I would do a user fee, not an across the board fee,” Sims said. “I don’t want to see it put as a millage. I will not vote for that. I will not vote for it being put across the board for every resident and every business.”
“I’m totally opposed to a millage increase, and totally opposed to a tax across the board,” Schulz said. “I believe we need to work with the Solid Waste Authority to set a fee.”
District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson said he wanted to support the SWA, but would be in favor of a tax in order to give county employees a raise. District 1 Commissioner John Douglas was absent during the work session.
The SWA’s next meeting is July 7, and will present its finding to the BOC during the commission’s next meeting July 19.
“This board needs to rely on the SWA to come up with a plan,” said Sims, who is on the SWA’s board of directors, along with Schulz and Ellis. “They need to come up with a fee, they need to look at tonnage, and it needs to be their responsibility.”