Commissioners propose a 14.15 percent tax hike
Aug. 1st and 15th
Grady County commissioners are proposing a 14.15 percent tax increase and voted unanimously Tuesday morning to adopt a tentative millage rate of 14.653, an increase of one mill.
The millage rate hike comes on top of the revaluation of the residential property in the county by $32,132,817 to bring local values in line with actual sales values.
By not rolling back the millage rate based on the increased values, the county is set to collect $911,695 more in ad valorem taxes in 2017 than it did in 2016.
The board also voted to tentatively adopt a budget for 2018 of $13,820,679, which is up $1,292,899 from the budget approved for 2017.
“There is not a single computer budgeted, not a single piece of software. There is no fluff in this budget. The increase is all in capital investments like the lake, roads, new communication tower in Reno and E911 radio equipment and upgrades. All investments that will improve this county for years to come,” Grady County Administrator Carlos Tobar said Tuesday.
However, the budget as it currently stands does include funding for two additional deputies for the Grady County Sheriff’s Office as well as four new patrol cars. The commissioners had also budgeted for an additional shift at Grady Emergency Medical Service, but on Tuesday morning EMS Director Rodney Gordon recommended buying another ambulance rather than hiring additional personnel.
A $232,108 increase in the road department budget over the current year is also considered, but there has been little discussion by county commissioners about that increase in spending.
Tobar tells county commissioners that the Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant (LMIG) from the state will reimburse the county on some of the increased spending in the road department, but no specifics have been revealed.
The county administrator said that since 2013 a total of $17 million in transportation projects have been completed or are in process in Grady County.
“The only way we can pull it off is because of the work our road department is able to do as part of our match for state funding,” Tobar said.
Costs related to the operation of Decatur-Grady E911 is also a factor in the 2018 budget. According to Tobar, the budget for the interagency fund, which includes 911, is up $140,685 in the proposed budget over the current year.
Decatur Grady E911 Director Tonya Griffin met with commissioners Tuesday morning and discussed her budget, which in addition to capital expenditures includes funding for four additional dispatchers.
However, Griffin is not optimistic she can fill those new positions. “Since 2013, we’ve had 27 people we hired that didn’t make it past the 90 day probationary period. I don’t have much hope I can fill these extra positions,” she said.
Grady EMS Director Gordon made the case for an additional ambulance to allow for the county to respond to requests for hospital transfers, which are non-emergency calls, on a more timely basis.
According to Gordon, Grady General Hospital has reduced the number of requests for Grady EMS to transport patients due to delays in response times due to the volume of other calls and the lack of ambulances.
“They haven’t stopped calling completely, but they have cut back,” Gordon said.
Commission Chairman Elwyn Childs asked how many transfer calls had the hospital called in another provider to handle and the county had lost. Gordon said he could only remember two or three, but he said there had been numerous occasions when the patients had to be kept on hold until an ambulance was free to transport the patient to another facility.
“When I go to the doctor or the hospital I have to wait an hour or more, too,” Chairman Childs responded.
Gordon is recommending the county purchase a new chassis and refurbished box for the additional ambulance for a total investment of approximately $97,000 compared to $170,000 to $180,000 for a brand new, fully-equipped ambulance. The additional unit would be primarily used for transports, but could also be used to respond to emergency calls.
Tobar says the Grady EMS is on track to collect $850,000 in revenue this year and he is budgeting to improve that to $900,000 in 2018. With a total operating budget of a projected $990,415, Tobar says the EMS will be practically self-sufficient.
As for the $212,959 increase proposed for the sheriff’s office, Board member Keith Moye reminded his fellow commissioners that Grady County Sheriff Harry Young said he would work with whatever the board decided to fund.
Vice Chairman Ray Prince expressed his hesitancy to increase the number of deputies because Sheriff Young could not guarantee a reduction in overtime expenses.
Chairman Childs said that he is concerned with the illegal drug problem in the county. Childs suggested tougher drug enforcement would result in additional county revenue through confiscations.
“Personally, I would come nearer to voting for one man to use working on drugs than I would another road deputy,” Childs said.
Also impacting the budget is $241,899 for Tired Creek Lake expenses and debt payments.
Vice Chairman Prince said that the increased values of residential property combined with the proposed one mill tax hike would have the net effect of a two mill increase on local homeowners.
Grady County Chief Appraiser Susan Bennett, who attended the Tuesday morning called meeting, reminded commissioners that the reassessments are not the issue, but that the growth in the county’s budget is driving up taxes.
She said her office had only made adjustments to get residential property values at the proper levels. “You could roll back the millage and collect the same amount of taxes as you did the prior year. If we had not reassessed residential property you would have had to increase the millage regardless just to cover the budget,” Bennett said.
Commissioner T.D. David argued the assessments are part of the equation.
“You determine how much taxes people pay, we only set the values,” Bennett commented.
Commissioner LaFaye Copeland, who is currently in the midst of a battle with cancer, participated in the Tuesday morning meeting via cell phone. She asked if there was a possibility to delay increased spending in EMS and the sheriff’s office for one year.
Commissioner David argued against a delay and commented, “We need to get this right and we will never get it right if we keep saying next year, next year.”
Vice Chairman Prince said that based on the calls per shift in the sheriff’s office the existing staff is “not over worked.”
Chairman Childs also pushed for holding the line on spending. “A lot of people will not be able to pay their taxes if this goes through,” he predicted.
County Clerk Carrie Kines – Croy reminded the board that the tentative millage could be higher than the final millage rate, but the county could not adopt a tentative millage now and then adopt a final millage rate that is higher. Kines-Croy suggested approving the proposed rate and continue discussing possible revisions prior to final adoption.
The board voted unanimously to set the tentative millage rate at 14.653 mills and to tentatively adopt the $13,820,679 operating budget. Three public hearings on the proposed tax increase will be held, with two scheduled for Aug. 1 and a third on Aug. 15. The first hearing will be at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 1 followed by one that night at 6 p.m. Then on Tuesday, Aug. 15 the final public hearing will be held at 6 p.m. and final adoption of the millage and budget will be voted on that evening.
“Now we get down to the real nitty gritty,” Chairman Childs said.