Putnam County tax hike fails By Shannon Sneed

From left, Commissioners Trevor Addsion, Alan Foster and Daniel Brown give opposing reasons Sept. 8 for and against increase Putnam County’s millage rate.

The three newest members of the Putnam County Board of Commissioners shot down a recently advertised proposal to raise taxes. After much debate over not “nickel and diming” taxpayers every year by increasing the millage rate, Commissioners Trevor Addison, Daniel Brown and Kelvin Irvin voted at a called meeting Sept. 8 to set a rate equal to the reassessed value of property. Commissioners Dr. Steve Hersey, chairman, and Alan Foster opposed keeping that rate. Addison made the motion to rollback the millage rate for the incorporated county to 8.846 and to 8.277 for the unincorporated. Addison argued that if the board decided to raise taxes, that decision should be based on concrete evidence and a firm foundation of what the county’s needs would be three, four and five years out instead of visiting the issue every single year. Suggesting the BOC model some of their taxing decisions after the same process the board of education currently uses, Addison said he liked how the BOE typically raises their tax mill rate by trying to project as far out as they can. “They like to stay on one mill rate for five years,” Addison said, noting that perhaps next year they could have a better understanding of what the county’s future finances look like, because they will know in November whether or not the local TSPLOST passes. “If it (TSPLOST) passes,” said Addison, “it’s a five-year trajectory of our transportation cost and we will know our needs there.” Brown agreed and said he believed that, like big business, county government would work better with a plan. “You plan on what you do know,” said Brown. “I think things are not sure right now, but some things are in the works and we can, after a short period of time, make better judgment calls.” Irvin noted he felt the board was out of order in how they were going through the budget/taxation process. “To me, we need to set the budget before we can know what we are going to set the millage rate,” said Irvin. “I have a big issue saying we are going to raise taxes when we really don’t know what we are going to spend.” Brown agreed, noting he would also like to work it out in the future where the budget is set first and then the millage rate. “Then we are actually going through a planning process and can see what we’ve got ahead in the road and can go to the taxpayers better informed,” he said. Foster argued that because the proposed budget showed a shortfall between $1.5 million and $2 million, it would call for an increase of .442 mills. “We are feathering out the losses,” said Foster. “I think it is the prudent thing to do.” Foster said the advertised mill rates were a responsible rate, and the BOC would not have been overtaxing the public because it’s the appropriate response to the losses that incurred from the property tax evaluation of Georgia Power’s property. If the proposed budget were to pass without the millage rate increase, the compensation for that loss of revenue would come out of the county’s savings account along with the approximate $1.5 million already needed to help fund the budget. Hersey said that somewhere along the line, the county would have to stop pulling money out of that reserve. “These are not large increases,” he said, “Some folks think it’s better to do a little bit at a time so they can make an adjustment in their own personal budget.” Hersey said issuing a small tax increase and the maximum preservation of the reserves for him is a main priority for this year. “We can certainly justify the proposed tax increase,” said Addison, also noting he had realized those needs and would propose some changes to the budget at the Sept. 19 hearing that would bring down those totals. “If we look at raising taxes this year and we raised taxes last year, then perhaps raising taxes (again) next year, (plus) in the meantime we ask voters to pass a local option sales tax, which I believe the majority of us, if not all of us, want to pass -- that’s too much to ask in one year.”

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