Commission to Cut Property Tax Rate and Adopt Budgets Monday Night

August 17, 2007
Dwayne Page

Expect a property tax cut when the county commission votes on the proposed new budget Monday night.

The county budget committee will recommend to the commission that the property tax rate be cut by 20 cents from $1.90 to $1.70 per $100 of assessed value.

The proposed tax rate breaks down as follows:

County General Fund- 62 cents (a cut of five cents from last year)
Solid Waste- 19 cents (an increase of one cent from last year)
Debt Service- 29 cents (the same as last year)
Highways- 3 cents (the same as last year)
General Purpose Schools- 57 cents (a cut of 16 cents from last year)

The total county budget comes to $32,717,412.

County Mayor Mike Foster says the proposed budget includes a pay raise of 25 cents per hour for county general employees and a $250 bonus for employees with five years of service. Employees with up to ten years of service would get an extra $50 bonus for each year of service from five to ten years.

Foster says the Assessor of Property, who has two employees, would get a third under the proposed new budget. "They (budget committee) have proposed putting one extra position in the tax assessor's office. The thinking is that within a short time, there will be building safety codes and that they should be administered (with this new employee) out of that office."

The Assessor, however, may also use the extra employee for other duties in the office.

According to Foster, "We are experiencing several builders coming in here that are not used to building on these steep lots. Since I've been in office, ten houses have either been built on the wrong lots or partially on the wrong lots. There's got to be some safety devices in place to take care of the innocent home owners."

"On these really steep lots, they (developers) need to have an engineer that they pay for who can come in and say ‘this is how you need to engineer this foundation so your house doesn't slide off this hill'. We need to know where your lot lines are before you build your house and that your builder complies with codes. It's a safety thing for the homeowner."

In the Sheriff's Department budget, Foster says the county plans to seek a grant to purchase surveillance cameras for the jail. "We're trying to get a small grant, a Community Enhancement Grant, to put in surveillance cameras all through the jail to make it a safer place for everyone. It would involve about $25,000. We feel like this really needs to be done for the safety of the employees and to keep inmate to inmate violence down."

Sheriff Ray says the commission has already approved the purchase of the cameras. If the grant is approved, it is expected to save the county some money.

Foster says the department also plans to purchase patrol cars to replace older vehicles. "Sheriff Ray bought four cars last year, including one new one and three used cars. The used cars , which came from Missouri had 40,000 to 50,000 miles on them and the county paid $10,000 to $11,000 dollars for them. This year the plan is to purchase about four more cars to replace older ones. There's only probably about sixteen cars (in the department)"

In the County Fire Department, Foster says funds are included to provide shelter for a couple of tankers. "There's a little bit of money in there to try and fix a place to store a couple of tankers that are now outside, so if we had a freeze (this winter) they would be in a closed up building."

Meanwhile, Foster says he is proud of the new fire station in the Austin Bottom Community. "It is really nice. The people over there did a great job in helping us get that done. It's also going to be a voting place and a very small community center. The building is 1,600 square feet. It will store two fire trucks and could keep an ambulance there overnight if needed. If there was a boating event, you might want to keep an ambulance there over night."

On the landfill, Foster says money is being carried over from last year to develop a new cell site, once the state grants the permit for construction. "We still have that money in there that was appropriated in 2007 to do the new cell. We borrowed that money as by law we are required to do. Once you do your budget, you only have six months to borrow that money. So we borrowed it and put it in the bank and it's actually making a little bit of money right now. We're waiting for approval to expand a cell and that money will be used for it. We're very close to running out of space. We have already talked to another county about, if we run out of space before the permit is issued, could be work out a deal with them to haul some of our garbage to that county. We're trying to recycle cardboard, plastic, and paper on a small scale. We are recycling about 30,000 to 40,000 pounds of cardboard a month which is not going into the landfill, along with tires and burned oil. We ship about three truck loads of tires a month out of the county, which costs about $3,200 to $3,300 a month to do so."

Foster says funds are also included in the solid waste budget to purchase a new garbage truck.

Meanwhile, Foster says a new location still has not yet been found to replace the garbage collection convenience site on Highway 56 south. " We were leasing it from Ernie and Betsy Lynam. It was a very handy place and the people are missing it, but the state bought it and they gave us until August 1st to be off of it. We had to move the equipment to the landfill where we have stored it until we find a place to put it. We have about three places we've been looking at. All of them are impacted by the new road and we don't know exactly how much of those lots are going to be left and how much access there is going to be to them. We are trying very hard to locate one (new convenience center site) because it is an inconvenience to the people."

Foster says the new budget includes funds to purchase property next to the county jail, which could be used for parking at the jail and Justin Potter Library. If the county can't come to terms with the owner, it could initiate imminent domain proceedings. "We have been looking at the building next to the jail (house and lot) for future and current needs. It sold before we could buy it and we're trying to negotiate with the new owner to purchase it. We are interested in it partially for the security of the jail, parking for the jail, and parking for the library."

The new budget breaks down as follows:
General Fund- $5,781,689
Courthouse & Jail Maintenance- $80,425
Local Purpose Fund- $1,962,776
Drug Control- $20,908
Highways- $2,060,868
General Purpose Schools- $17,172,300
School Cafeteria Fund- $1,154,200
Debt Service- $1,264,,216
General Capital Projects- $784,210
Solid Waste- $2,435,821 (Includes a six year note for up to $1,225,000 to build a new cell at the landfill- a carry over project from last year)

The county commission will vote on the new budget and set the property tax rate Monday night at 6:30 p.m. in the basement courtroom of the courthouse. A public hearing will be held at 6:00 p.m. WJLE plans LIVE coverage.

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