This year as we prepare the budget, the district Commissioners requested the county manager prepare a budget not to exceed the tax dollars generated by the current 10.91 millage rate. In other words, no tax increase. This is an admirable goal and I agree with them; no one wants to raise taxes.
However, with the increased mandates from the State and Federal Government, it is increasingly hard to comply. Add the maintenance of county assets without any increase in revenues and the difficulty to balance the budget magnifies. All requests are valid. So choices must be made.
These questions should be considered: What is the appropriate level of service expected by our citizens? What is the funding required to provide those services? How does each service impact our county? How will any tax increase impact our citizens, businesses, and industries?
These decisions are hard and the commissioners do not take them lightly. If we postpone repairs or maintenance today, the cost of repair grows exponentially as each year passes. If a tax increase is necessary, this only adds to the burden this economy has placed upon our citizens.
Personally, I ask myself, "What is the return on investment for these specific tax dollars?" It is easy to visually understand the investment on a road improvement. The result is tangible for the drivers using the road daily. Roads and bridges are the largest asset we own and maintenance dollars are vital.
Then how do you quantify the intangible like the value of county employees or economic development?
County employees have carried the burden of this balanced budget by taking fifteen furlough days as unpaid holidays; their salaries have been frozen; the commissioners have suspended increases in pay even for achievement of educational requirements as outlined in county policies. We have continued to ask them to do more with less and it is taking a toll. We have right-sized and reorganized county departments to serve you more efficiently. We have invested in these employees with training to create a professional staff. That makes us vulnerable. As other counties recover from this economy, our employees may be recruited to fill their void. County employees deliver the best rate of return for your tax dollars. They are the first impression of Newton County.
We expect each interaction with the public to be a positive and professional experience. Our employees have met this challenge because they are dedicated to this county. I believe they are our best asset.
So, how do we improve our digest during this economy? With limits to property value assessments by the legislature; our next option is to recruit new economic development. The most recent quote from Dr. Jeffrey Dorfman of UGA indicates with schools included, commercial and industrial properties generally pay $3.09 in property taxes per $1 in services provided. Compare to residential properties that pay $1 in taxes per $1.29 in services received. Economic development provides jobs, an increased tax digest, and the intangible quality of life.
As an economic financial professional, there are calculations to value the investment including jobs created and real estate improvements (taxable property, furniture and fixtures). However, the intangibles sometimes provide the greatest return. Intangibles are those items paid by the employee payroll as they spend those dollars in the community. We sometimes call this the multiplier effect as those dollars are released into the community for things such as rent or mortgage, utilities, insurance, vehicles, food, clothing, etc.
The Chamber of Commerce is the professional economic development team for our county. They help existing industries to expand or develop needed work force. They have recruited new industry, helped others to expand creating nearly 500 new jobs -an impressive feat. Add their support in recruiting Baxter International at Stanton Springs bringing 1500 new jobs and a $1 billion investment. The return on investment grows exponentially. I haven't mentioned the intangible dollars for our county.
We must continue to solicit balanced quality jobs and industry to our county. This creates diversity for our community, not limiting our reliance to one industry. The census numbers indicate we have a 12.3 percent unemployment rate or approximately 6,000 working age adults unemployed in our county. They want to work but need jobs. We must seize the momentum and maximize the return on this investment.
County government is all about balance. It is our responsibility to provide the infrastructure creating an environment that provides opportunity for individuals, business, and industry to prosper. We must also invest your tax dollars where the maximum return will be achieved. I am sure your district commissioner has considered each of these issues among others as they make their decision to approve the budget.
Kathy Morgan is Chairman of the Newton County Board of Commissioners. She can be reached at (678) 625-1201 or firstname.lastname@example.org.