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It appears more likely than not that Grady County commissioners will seek to delay the mailing of tax bills until approximately Nov. 20 this year, a month later than usual.
Grady County administrator J.C. (Buddy) Johnson III, has been meeting with commissioners one-on-one and in small groups this week to discuss financial issues regarding the county’s current budget as well as the 2020 operating budget.
According to Johnson, the county will proceed with setting a tentative millage rate that includes a minimum of a three mill tax increase in advance of the November Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax referendum.
County officials say if the voters approve the SPLOST, then the board will meet after election day to set the final millage and will reduce the final millage from the tentative millage rate, which would include the three mill hike. The county depends on the SPLOST to fund the majority of its approximately $1.6 million debt service on the Tired Creek Lake project. Without the one percent sales tax the county would be fored to make up that lost revenue to pay on the bonds.
Johnson said the budget has not been finalized and will not be until upcoming budget workshop meetings with the full county commission. County officials are trying to determine if a millage rate increase over the current tax rate will be necessary to balance the county’s 2020 budget even if the SPLOST is passed.
“We are sharing some information on different topics to make sure the commissioners have a full understanding of the situation before they are asked to make any decisions,” Johnson said.
Some decisions that will impact the county’s operating expenses could be made as early as next Tuesday when the board meets at 6 p.m.
The county administrator says the cost of the county’s health insurance for county employees has to be addressed. Officials are looking at the current costs, projected costs in 2020 and how premiums, co-pays and deductables might be adjusted to reduce the county’s benefit costs.
According to the county administrator, he and county finance director Holly Murkerson are also working through issues with the 2019 budget where the previous administration did not budget appropriately in a number of departments.
County officials are also anticipating learning more about the county’s finances next week when auditor Perry Henry appears before the board on Tuesday to present the audited financial statements for 2018.
Administrator Johnson said Tuesday that he anticipates receiving the 2019 tax digest no later than next week and the growth or lack of growth in the digest will answer many of the questions regarding anticipated revenue to fund the 2020 budget.
Johnson credited the work of the county’s new finance director in analyzing the county’s finances and putting together a tentative 2020 budget.
The administrator clearly does not want to have to propose a three mill tax increase, but he says, at a minimum, that is what would be needed should the SPLOST referendum fail this fall.
If tax bills are delayed and are not mailed until Nov. 20, they would be due without interest or penalty if paid by Jan. 20, according to the county administrator.
A delay in the mailing of tax notices will also impact the Grady County School System and the cities of Cairo and Whigham since the Grady County Tax Commissioner collects state, county, city and school taxes.
Cairo City Council Finance Committee chairman, James H. (Jimmy) Douglas, said this week that he did not foresee the city having any fiscal issues if tax bills are delayed.
However, Grady County School Superintendent Dr. Kermit Gilliard said that after discussing the possibility of delayed tax collections with school system finance officer Dan Broome it is likely the school system would have to borrow money in the form of a Tax Anticipation Note to cover expenses until tax collections begin to be disbursed by the tax commissioner.
The Grady County commission could also face a similar predicament, according to Johnson.