July 11, 2019
By: Dwayne Page
The county commission will try again to pass a new budget with a 29 cent property tax increase when it convenes on Monday, July 22
During a meeting Wednesday evening, the county budget committee voted 4-1 to recommend the very same proposal to the county commission that was defeated last month. Since the measure came within three votes of passage with three members absent, some believe the budget may have a better chance of getting approved at the next commission meeting if all 14 commissioners are present.
Budget committee members voting to send the proposal back “as is” were Jeff Barnes, Anita Puckett, Sabrina Farler and Chairman Dennis Slager, who had previously voted against it in committee. Jerry Adcock, who had supported it before, voted “no” this time.
“I have not changed my mind about this budget but I feel this deserves the full vote of the commission. That’s what these commissioners are elected to do. They have to set the tax rate. That is part of their job. I believe it is in the best interest of the county to send this back to the full commission for another vote,” said Chairman Slager.
Adcock said he felt like the proposed budget could stand some trimming but not in the area of emergency services.
“There are a few areas we should cut but I don’t think we should cut anything from any of those people with the emergency services and fire department. I don’t think we should touch anything on theirs. Now when we start cutting we need to look at other departments,” said Adcock.
Before the vote, Chairman Slager gave his thoughts on the proposed budget and asked for comments from other budget committee members.
“There were a lot of hours put in on the budget and like any other budget there was funding that is necessary and some funding that is not necessary but at the end of the day it is the budget that this committee presented and voted on (previously) to send to the full commission. We have a couple of options (this time). We could leave it as is and send it back to the full commission with a full vote. We had two or three people absent (last commission meeting). It stands a chance of passing on its merits this time around. Or we could do like Jerry discussed and start looking at some things to cut. That’s a decision that the committee needs to think about. We have been through a lot of work here to put this together. It is not a perfect budget and it doesn’t address (new) schools. I think there has been a lot of controversy about why it doesn’t address schools. We all know we don’t have a proposal from the school (board) to consider yet and I don’t see how we could ever do that (fund new schools) without having something in front of us to fund.,” said Slager.
“I thought it (budget) looked pretty good. There is not a whole lot you can cut out of it. You could raise it all you want to,” said Barnes.
“I agree with Jeff. This budget is going to move DeKalb forward as far as the things that are needed and the things that have been allocated by prior (county) commissions that we will be obligated to fulfill. I am very hopeful for the new revenues we should be able to accrue through the litigation taxes and through Susan’s office (Circuit Court Clerk) if she is able to have this extra employee. I am very hopeful it will help increase revenues for our budget for next year. I feel like we need to push forward with this,” said Puckett.
“I feel like we spent long hours and addressed each budget equally. I’m not real sure how I feel about being the keeper of which one is more important than the other one. I think we were very equal and consistent with each decision we made. I have heard in the community that maybe it (tax increase) is not high enough (because of new schools) but I’m not sure we are there yet with schools. We have not been given a proposal yet for what they need and we need something on paper first. But what we have done with our budget meetings has been consistent. I think we have been fair,” said Farler.
With the proposed increase, as recommended by the budget committee, county taxpayers would pay $2.12 per $100 of assessed value starting this fall, up from the current rate of $1.83. However none of the proposed increase would go to fund a new school building program. Although the Board of Education has settled on a new Pre-K to 2nd grade school model it has not yet sent a request for funding to the county commission. When that request does come, some say the county may have to re-visit property taxes and or seek a wheel tax to help support a school building program.
Steve Bates, the county’s financial advisor, has warned that the county cannot go another year without more revenue.
During Wednesday night’s budget committee meeting, Chairman Slager asked Bates to summarize the proposal that the county commission will again be asked to consider.
“The budget as originally presented increases the property tax 29 cents with four cents going to the general purpose school fund to meet state BEP requirements, 25 cents to the general fund, and one cent being diverted from the general capital projects fund to the highway department in order to meet the five year average. There are mandatory state pay raises for elected officials. Ambulance service revenues continue to lag expenditures and represents a difference $743,930 in this budget. The cash short fall in the general fund as presented is approximately $473, 291 but any increase in patient charges or fees or decreases in those expenditures will offset that. There are additional payroll positions in the circuit court clerk’s office, fire prevention, sheriff’s department, and General Session’s court for courtroom security. Total debt is $7, 470,000 and the calculated per capita debt is $398.97 per person. The net debt is $295.38. The total appropriations is $45,697,589,” said Bates.
The proposed tax rate is to be divided among the funds as follows:
*County General: $1.21.35 cents, up by 25 cents from the current rate of 0.9635 cents
*Highway/Public Works: 0.04 cents, up by 1 cent from the current rate of 0.03 cents
*General Capital Projects: 0.9 cents, down by 1 cent from the current rate of 0.10 cents
*Debt Service: 0.13 cents
*General Purpose Schools: 0.65 cents, up by 4 cents from the current rate of 0.61 cents.
The county commission will again consider the new budget and property tax rate for passage at the next meeting on Monday, July 22 at 6:30 p.m. in the downstairs courtroom of the courthouse.