Millage Increase Put on Proposed County Budget
Paulding County commissioners agreed Thursday to amend the proposed fiscal year 2013 budget. They are set to vote on it later this month.
Paulding County residents may see a millage increase after all when the county’s Board of Commissioners votes later this month on the maintenance and operation budget for fiscal year 2013.
Commissioners at their July 10 board meeting voted 3-2 against a proposal that included a millage increase from the current rate of 7.6 mills. But at a work session Thursday morning that focused on the budget, commissioners approved a slate of recommendations that included an increase.
Barring any changes made before the budget is adopted, the millage rate under the FY2013 budget would be the maximum rollback rate of 8.364 mills.
“You can be revenue neutral and increase the millage rate by 0.764 mills [to 8.364],” County Administrator Michael Jones told commissioners. “What that means in layman’s terms is you’ll collect the same money this year that you did last year by adjusting the millage rate—it offsets the drop in the digest. If you leave the millage where it is today, you’ll collect about $2 million less in tax than you did the previous year.”
According to Commissioner Tommie Graham, a rate of 8.364 mills would bring the county about $22.3 million in revenue.
“[That] is $4.5 million less in property tax than we collected in 2009. We still have a 20-percent tax decrease to the citizens of Paulding County,” Graham said, addressing the issue of the county’s diminishing revenues amid the current economy.
Early in the meeting, Jones said next year is slated to mark the fifth consecutive decline in Paulding’s tax digest—a slide that has led to significant cuts in services.
“Folks, we are below the cost of government. Libraries are closed on Wednesdays, parks close early, you no longer have a stormwater department, your county employees are still taking furlough days, there have been no adjustments to their salaries … our roads are not getting resurfaced at the rate they should, potholes are not getting fixed at the rate they should, and those problems aren’t going away,” he said. “This stuff is going to come back in roost, and it is not going to be inexpensive.
“I recognize we didn’t get into this predicament in one year; we’re not going to get out of it in one year. But I think we need to really consider taking steps forward to move us out of this.”
Three of four agree
Other parts of the commissioners’ approved budget proposal include four furlough days; the cutting of $25,000 from the Industrial Building Authority’s budget, with those funds moved to Shepherd’s Rest Ministries, a local family violence crisis center; the allocation of $350,000 for an infrastructure task force; and a $100,000 reduction in reservoir funding.
Approving the proposal were Commission Chairman David Austin, Graham and Commissioner David Barnett. Commissioner Todd Pownall cast the lone dissenting vote, while Larry Ragsdale was not present.
Pownall said he disagreed with keeping furlough days in place but budgeting for some pay raises and a “buyback” program, where employees who have accumulated enough personal days or sick days can trade some of those hours for pay. He said the policy had been frozen over the last few years due to the economy, while the currently proposed budget calls for reinstating it.
“I have a problem with us doing buybacks and pay raises when we’re still having furloughs, because I feel like that in a typical, private business, you’re going to get rid of the furloughs first before you go and give pay raises,” Pownall said during the meeting. “I think before we start spending money on buybacks and pay raises, we need at looking to make sure our facilities are open. The money that’s suggested in this budget to spend on pay raises would get rid of furlough days.
“I’m not for raising revenue to give pay raises when we’re still going to have furlough days and close the building down. We’re in business here for the people. That’s not good business sense.”
Pownall added that while county employees deserve pay raises, budgeting for those while retaining furloughs or drawing from the county’s fund balance to fund them was not the way to do it.
“The employees haven’t had raises, and are on furlough days, and I understand that, but neither has the general public out there,” he said.
Meeting ends abruptly
After commissioners put together the budget recommendations that ultimately became the measure they voted on, Austin prompted his fellow commissioners for a vote on it.
“[But] I don’t know if we’re through,” Graham responded. “Are there any other items? I’m willing to make a motion on that, but is there something else we can cut?”
“Let’s get a motion on the table, and then we’ll look for other cuts,” Austin said.
Graham then made the motion, with Barnett providing the second. Graham again voiced the desire to continue work on the budget before the votes were cast.
“I think there’s more. Is there more out there that we can do for this budget? Unless you’re saying amend it and talk about amending it more,” he said.
The motion earned favorable votes from Austin, Graham and Barnett, with Pownall voting against. Austin then called the meeting over, which drew some displeasure from his fellow commissioners.
“I think there’s more work to be done on the budget. I’m not happy with what we got done this morning,” Pownall said, adding that he had hoped to have three or four hours of discussion. The meeting had been scheduled for 8 a.m.; it ended about 9:45 a.m.
“[It was] cut a little short. I wish we had more time,” he added. “I think there are more things we can trim and more adjustments we can make to do the right thing for the employees and the citizens of the county.”
An amended FY2013 budget proposal to reflect the changes approved Thursday could be posted on the county’s website by the end of business today. The proposed budgets that were presented in June and July are attached to this article.