The county commission Monday night, following a public hearing, again went on record pledging to reduce the property tax rate by a minimum of nineteen and a half cents, if the people of DeKalb County will vote to increase the local option sales tax from 1.5% to the maximum of 2.75% in a public referendum set for May 17th.
Last September, the commission raised the property tax rate by 39 cents to $1.90 per $100 of assessed value, after a public referendum to increase the sales tax rate failed at the polls in August. A reduction of nineteen and a half cents would roll the property tax rate back to a little over $1.70 cents per $100 of assessed value.
The commission, in February, authorized a second public referendum on the proposed sales tax hike and voted unanimously to go on record pledging to cut the property tax rate by nineteen and a half cents, if the referendum is approved. Monday night's vote by the commission was a renewal of that committment.
All county commissioners present for the meeting voted to make that pledge including Elmer Ellis, Jr., Mason Carter, Jack Barton, Bobby Joines, Jerry Scott, Randy Caplinger, Wayne Cantrell, Jeff Barrett, John Green, Jeff Barnes, Marshall Ferrell, Larry Summers, and Willie Thomas. Chris Smithson was absent.
The DeKalb County Election Commission has set the date of the election for Thursday, May 17th.
This will be a county wide election. Early voting will begin Friday, April 27th and end Saturday, May 12th.
On election day, May 17th, the polling places will open at 8 a.m. and close at 7 p.m.
The wording on the ballot will read:
\"SHALL RESOLUTION 21-2-2007-1 PASSED BY THE DEKALB COUNTY COMMISSION ON FEBRUARY 26, 2007 PROVIDING FOR AN INCREASE IN THE LOCAL SALES TAX FROM 1.5% TO 2.75% WITH ONE-HALF (1/2) REQUIRED BY LAW AND THE REMAINDER AS PER AGREEMENT CONTRACTS, BE APPROVED?\"
County Mayor Mike Foster says under the proposal, a greater number of people, particularly tourists, would shoulder the tax burden while giving property owners a tax break. \"If tourists spend their money here, and we increase the sales tax, it would benefit us tremendously, and you let those people and those who work here but are not residents of DeKalb County pay their share. We would have to pay the sales tax too but if you look at the average homeowner and they get a $100 tax break, they would have to spend an extra $10,000 on something that pays sales tax to get back to being where they are now. We feel like the property owners are paying their share, and to give them a tax cut, we think is fair.\"
Foster says overall the plan is actually more of a tax swap than a tax increase, with the proposed extra sales tax revenue to offset the proposed cut in the property tax rate, but it would provide sufficient funding to meet county needs for four to five years without any additional tax increases. \"We're estimating around $700,000 to $750,000 in new sales tax revenue under the proposal. We were estimating about $260,000 from Wal-Mart, but we are also realistic in that we know other businesses are going to lose some revenue, and that's the unknown. I've talked to some business people, whose revenue is off considerably. So if we estimate that Wal-Mart will generate $260,000, there will probably be somewhere between $75,000 and $100,000 lost in other businesses, so we've taken that into consideration. But we still feel like that it will conservatively bring in about $700,000.\"
Foster added that the proposed new revenue would not be enough to absorb the entire 39 cent property tax increase adopted last September
Only two people spoke during the public hearing.
George Davis said he favors the sales tax hike as a means of giving property owners some tax relief, but Joe Collins strongly voiced his opposition to both the proposed sales tax increase as well as the 39 cent property tax hike. Collins blamed Foster for supporting a 36 cent tax increase during his first term in 2003 and the 39 cent tax hike last year, after he was re-elected. Collins said the tax increase was not needed.
Foster says despite the tax increases, DeKalb County is still among the lowest taxed counties in the state. \"There are no free lunches. It's got to come from somewhere. Fentress, Macon, Overton, and Smith Counties which are of similar size to DeKalb County, are getting an average of over $1.2 million more in sales tax revenue than DeKalb County and their property tax rates are considerably higher than ours and several of them have wheel taxes. We have no wheel tax. I am proud of the job the county commission does in managing things. Is it a perfect world? No. Is there some waste? Absolutely. Where can you cut it (budget)? Cut positions. We've got the same number of positions we had eight years ago. We've added zero positions. In fact we've cut two positions this year. I don't know how we stop inflation nor how we deal with anything except reality and that's what these people(county commissioners) have tried to do.\"