County tentatively bumps millage rate by 3 mills
Grady County Commissioners met for just over four hours Friday and Monday afternoons reviewing the proposed 2019 operating budget and looking for opportunities to reduce expenses.
The board has eliminated any cost of living raises and bonuses for county personnel and has not ruled out making cuts to the county’s workforce.
On Monday afternoon, the board voted unanimously to tentatively set the 2018 tax rate at 16.990 mills, up three mills from the 2017 rate of 13.990 mills.
Commission Chairman Ray Prince said during Monday’s budget workshop the reduction in the county’s workforce would be the only area where significant savings would result.
Commissioner June Knight said that the overtime, particularly in the sheriff’s office, road department and Emergency Medical Service, was “killing” the county’s budget.
Chairman Prince said departments that overspend their budgets are also contributing to the county’s financial woes.
Grady County Accounting Manager Donna Johnson warned that the county’s cash reserves would dwindle to approximately $1.1 million by October.
Commission Vice Chairman T.D. David sought clarification on what exactly Johnson identified as reserves and he noted that Johnson had previously said that at the end of May the county’s reserves were $3.1 million. The accounting manager acknowledged there is approximately $6 million in other general fund bank accounts.
However, Johnson said that unbudgeted expenses and money to cover expenses in excess of the budget would have to be paid for out of those funds.
With interest and principal payments coming due later this year for bonds issued to finance the Tired Creek Lake project, commissioners are looking to increase ad valorem taxes to finance the debt service payment.
The county needs just under $500,000 to combine with Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax proceeds to make the debt service payment. “If the next SPLOST doesn’t pass, then I don’t know. We will really be in trouble,” Johnson said.
Commissioner Knight said last Friday that commissioners should have been budgeting for the debt service “years ago” rather than waiting until now.
Chairman Prince said that when work on Old 179 wraps up shortly the county will be able to cut out the additional part-time labor that has been hired at the road department as well as reduce overtime expenses.
“They’ve gotten overtime so long their lifestyle is built around it. It’ll be hard for them to give up now,” Johnson predicted.
Overtime in the road department was nearly $100,000 in 2017 and currently the department has spent $47,483 in overtime for 2018. Overtime for the detention center is approximately $90,000 annually and approximately $200,000 annually in the sheriff’s office. The overtime expense in EMS exceeded $213,000 in 2017 and six months into 2018 $131,781 had been spent on overtime in EMS.
Vice Chairman David said the county needed revenue and he proposed upping the tax rate by three mills over time. He said the board probably could not stand politically to increase the tax rate by more than two mills this year. “We still got some shaving to do,” he said.
“Y’all are talking about going up three mills and trying for a TSPLOST, too? Y’all think that is a good idea?” Commissioner LaFaye Copeland asked.
According to County Clerk Carrie Croy, the majority of the public supports a Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax. The clerk is proposing the county’s TSPLOST projects to be Open Pond Road and Long Branch Road. Commissioner Copeland said that Bordon Road also must be included, which prompted Commissioner Knight to say that Mizpah Church Road also should be added.
Chairman Prince suggested only Open Pond, Long Branch and Bordon roads be included in the TSPLOST projects. “It’s better not to tie it all up,” Prince said.
While it appears unlikely that county workers will get a three percent raise next year, the budget remains $791,530 more than the current year and stands at $14,309,185.
The biggest increases are: $139,366 in the road department; $115,410 in the recreation department, $118,937 in general government; $107,000 in interagency; and $197,416 for Tired Creek Lake.
Under the budget in its current form, the county will actually spend less in the shop, detention center, EMS, Clerk of Courts, Probate Court, Volunteer Fire Department and Solid Waste than what is budgeted to be spent this year.
One mill of tax will generate more money in 2018 compared to 2017 with the adjusted net digest increasing $7.6 million to $553,760,598. Unfortunately, exemptions from the tax digest also grew from 2017 to 2018. The property exempt from ad valorem taxes bumped up $1,585,042 for a total of $147,422,469.
County officials were working to draft public notices to announce the proposed tax hike and to schedule three public hearings on the proposed increase. Those notices will begin appearing in The Messenger July 25. No dates for the public hearings had been set Wednesday as the newspaper went to press.
County Clerk Croy reminded board members the tentative millage rate should be set high since the board could lower the rate after it was advertised and hearings were conducted, but it could not be raised without starting the process all over.
Commissioners are anticipating taxpayers will vent their anger over the proposed tax hike, but they said they were committed to continuing to look at ways to reduce spending.
County officials also anticipate push back from county workers since the board had previously committed to funding Grady County’s share of a 10 percent raise for Decatur-Grady E911 personnel.
“The county workers will just have to be mad. We’ve given raises and bonuses every year I’ve been on the board. We just can’t do it this year,” Commissioner Copeland said Friday.
The county appears to be struggling to finalize the budget, which has been put together without a county administrator in place to oversee the budget planning. The proposed budget was put together primarily by Accounting Manager Johnson and County Clerk Croy.