Let me be perfectly clear. As Newton County Commission Chair, I am strongly in support of the rollback millage rate of 10.9 mils. For 10 years, the millage rate has remained at 9.73, adequate during our flush times but far from adequate as this county struggles with a dramatically reduced tax digest down some 24 percent since I took office 18 months ago. If three district commissioners vote to continue that rate and not adopt the rollback rate, they will be contributing mightily to an unnecessary decline in critical areas of county services.
At either rate, our citizens are going to see inconvenient and unpleasant reductions in services they expect the county government to provide: long lines at the tax and tag offices, long delays in obtaining information by phone or in person, long waits for road and bridge repair that could even create dangerous hazards, and long response times when you need fire or deputy assistance. At the 9.73 mil rate some 120 county employees will lose their jobs. This will have a $20 million negative impact for this county. That is the same as losing an industry. Not to mention that we will be losing decades of experience and professionally trained employees. At the 10.9 rate, jobs will be lost as well but not to the same degree.
Raising the millage rate to 10.9 will at least allow us to continue to provide an adequate level of safety and security by our Sheriff’s Department plus enables our courts system to continue to operate at a level needed to enforce our laws. The rollback rate will minimize employee cuts for our Sheriff’s Department and court system. The one area of county government that has grown during these economic times is crime. If we do not provide adequate funding to keep this machine moving smoothly, the length of time to try a case will increase adding to the cost to house inmates. If we do not provide an appropriate level of funding for those who work to keep us safe, who would choose to live here?
The rollback rate of 10.9 will increase the average $150,000 home in Newton County by approximately $60 this year. It will be a more significant hit to business and industry; however, I believe they want to keep the same level of service for our county. As painful as this is to say, I believe that all of us should be willing to share in the burden of keeping this county afloat by paying a nominal increase. We’re all in the same boat; we will float or sink together. In my opinion, if we cannot provide a safe and secure environment, business and industry will shun us as well as the caliber of homeowners and families hoping to enjoy life in this special place.
Newton County is, indeed a very special place. The economy has dealt us a heavy hand. Two years ago, the Board of Commissioners determined the level of services needed for the 99,964 citizens of our county required a budget of $55 million. Demand for services has not lessoned, in fact, we now serve over 109,000 citizens in our county. Last year, the budget reduction trimmed the fat and brought efficiencies of operations as our motto. We will continue that path this year under the rollback rate and I believe those efficiencies will be required from all areas of county government. To cut our budget by another 14 percent will be equivalent to amputating an arm to heal a bruise. Let us now agree that there are minimal steps we must take to preserve our safety and security; the rollback rate will provide the funding to achieve a responsible budget.
The district commissioners have struggled with this decision, and I give them credit for the countless hours and research that have gone into the action that must be taken. Make no mistake about it, my fellow commissioners and citizens; I believe the correct course of action will be to adopt the rollback millage rate of 10.9 at Tuesday night’s commission meeting. Step up and be heroes right now when heroes are needed.
Kathy Morgan is chairman of the Newton Countty Board of Commissioners.