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Commissioners eye small tax hike

Slight growth in the county’s tax digest of just under $4,000,000 is allowing Grady County Commissioners to propose a modest tax increase for 2016.
Commissioners Tuesday night unanimously adopted a tentative millage rate of 13.653 mills, up from 13.265 in 2015, or a 3.02 percent increase in ad valorem taxes.
With the tax hike, ad valorem taxes are expected to generate $6,969,019, which is $246,887 more than the county had to spend last year.
Combined with other revenue including miscellanious taxes, fines and fees, the county is budgeting total revenue of $12,524,894 to finance its proposed budget of $12,518,858 in 2017.
“I’ve really been struggling with this budget,” Grady County Administrator Carlos Tobar said Tuesday night.
While trying to minimize the tax increase, Tobar said he was seeking enough money to pay for increased county employee health care costs, infrastructure at Tired Creek Lake, $320,000 additional for E-911 upgrades and 911 center relocation costs, and approximately $135,000 for a three percent raise for county staff.
Overall, the budgeted expenditures have grown by $527,977 over last year.
“This has been a tough budget,” Tobar said. He also said that although the original recommendation was to set the tentative millage rate at 13.653 he would be more comfortable with a higher rate.
“The tentative can come down, but whatever we set it at now we can’t go up,” Chairman Charles Norton reminded the members of the board.
Norton also said the commissioners had time to make adjustments before a vote on final adoption on August 16.
In accordance with state law, due to the proposed tax increase the county commission will hold three public hearings on the proposed tax hike.
The first two hearings will be held on Tuesday Aug. 2 with the first being held at 9 a.m. and a second one at 6 p.m. All hearings will be held in the Commission meeting room on the first floor of the courthouse.
A third public hearing on the tax increase will be held Tuesday, Aug. 16 beginning at 6 p.m.
According to county officials, for a home with a fair market value of $100,000 with homestead exemption the cost of the tax increase will be $15.20. For non-homestead property with a fair market value of $250,000 the increase will amount to $40.
With the budget being so tight and only a $100,000 contingency, Chairman Norton said that commissioners in 2017 may have to use the word “no” more often than they are accustomed. Norton is retiring and will be leaving the board on Dec. 31 of this year.
“We may have to end up making some cuts we don’t want to make,” Commissioner Ray Prince said. Prince also predicted the revenues would come in ahead of projections next year. “I think we will be all right,” he said.
County commissioners even included over $18,000 in the proposed budget for a pay raise for themselves, but after they learned it would be next summer at the earliest before the new salary could go into effect the board members questioned if that additional money should be removed from the proposed spending plan.
In addition to holding the line on spending, Tobar pointed to past board action that had helped reduce the county’s cost of doing business.
By shifting to a self-insured health insurance program through Taylor Benefit Resource, Tobar says the county has cut health care costs for its employees by $400,000 annually.
He said a transition to a new Internet based phone system is saving $40,000 annually and changes to how the county pays for its computer network administration is saving over $25,000 a year.

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