Proposed county budget with 1/4 mill rate cut, still means higher tax

The proposed budget introduced this week by the Bulloch County Board of Commissioners and staff for fiscal year 2023 allows for a one-quarter reduction in the property tax rate. But due to a 9% inflation in the average value of taxable properties, owners will pay on average even more property taxes than last year.

Based on the inflationary growth in property values, Bulloch County Chief Tax Assessor John Scott advised commissioners that a reduction of about a full mill would likely be needed to avoid holding hearings. about raising taxes this fall under the state law known as the Georgia Property Taxpayers Bill. Rights.

With property in Georgia typically taxed on 40% of market value, a $1 million cut would eliminate about $40 in tax on a property that was worth $100,000 at the start of 2021 but had an average increase in value. for 2022. The quarter mill proposed for restoration avoids about $10 of that increase, but leaves the hypothetical $100,000 owner to pay the remaining $30.

“We’re trying, and I wish we could do the whole grind, but if we did, then we’ll have to cut staff more, we’ve got to cut services, and we just can’t cut any more,” the chairman of the board said. commissioners, Roy Thompson, in a phone call Thursday. “But we just want citizens to know we’re trying, and at least a quarter mill is something.”

Reduce balance

The latest budget forecast from County Executive Tom Couch, Chief Financial Officer Kristie King and other members of the county’s finance team includes a $2.48 million shortfall to annual revenue. By the end of the new fiscal year, June 30, 2023, the proposed budget would reduce the county’s general fund balance, currently at nearly $14 million, to approximately $11.5 million.

Tom Sofa

While total general fund revenue from all sources is projected at $48.38 million, the budget projects total expenditures of $50.86 million. The revenue growth combined with payroll spending will allow the county to provide a 6% raise to all of its employees, hire about 15 new employees — though not as many as requested by department heads — and have about 1 $.35 million to cover inflation in expenses such as fuel.

With the plant quarter cut, county staff are also allocating $530,000 in costs to the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, or ARPA, funds expected from the federal government. Without this, the deficit for the year, or the expected reduction in the balance, would exceed $3 million.

The process of creating this budget took nine or 10 weeks and began with the finance team and a few commissioners interviewing 44 representatives from county departments and outside agencies that the county helps fund, Thompson noted.

“We felt that this year it was worth doing because we received a very large number of requests for additional funding, mainly for internal staff, and external agencies also requested a lot, in particular the courts”, Couch said. weeks ago.

Other options

During a May 31 budget work session with commissioners, his slide show included four options for balancing the budget with mileage rate increases from 0.139 to 1.495 mils or deficit spending amounts from $348,335 to nearly 3 .74 million. The smallest mileage increase and shortfall was with a “do nothing” option with no employee increases and no new hires. The highest was a “do it all” option, funding the raise and hiring the requested 28 new employees from the general fund.

“The commissioners don’t want to raise tax rates this year, but they understand they may have to think about it next year,” Couch said after that session.

The version of the budget currently presented is a modification of its original option 4, an intermediate expenditure option with “budget manipulation”, so that ARPA funding covers part of the costs. It is funding the 6% salary increase and 15 new staff into the general fund, but with the time allotted for hiring new staff staggered over the fiscal year – some on July 1, 2022, but some not until July 1, 2022. January 1, 2023 – to limit total cost of the first fiscal year.

Commissioners informally agreed to keep the 6% increase in any budget they considered. As county and city officials have noted, the annual inflation rate is now over 8%, and unlike the overall 4% increase proposed by the City of Statesboro, the county’s 6% is not associated with funding for performance pay increases. .

“We’ve completed a study and most of our (county government) employees are very underpaid, like many other employees in Bulloch County,” Thompson said. “They didn’t get the raises they should have had because, you know, we tried to avoid raising taxes, but if we want to keep them, we’re going to have to pay them, and we have some of the best employees in the world.

Roy Thompson for the Web

Roy Thompson
– photo by Herald File

Couch pointed out to the commissioners that with current trends, an increase in the mileage rate, avoided this year for fiscal year 2023, will be necessary next calendar year, for fiscal year 2024. He described it as necessary to maintain “structural balance”, with mileage being an ongoing driver of revenue and the county facing increased demand for its services due to population growth, as well as the current spike in inflation and competition for the employees.

In the budget slideshow, the impact of Hyundai Motors’ announced plans to build a massive electric vehicle and EV battery factory at the multi-county mega-site near Interstate 16 in Bryan County by 2025 has been included in a “watch list” for future inquiries. about government services in Bulloch County. The construction of the Aspen Aerogels insulation plant in Bulloch’s Southern Gateway Commerce Park and other developers showing interest in the county also suggest accelerating population growth, Thompson noted.

“Bulloch County is growing and it’s about to really grow. …,” he said. “It ain’t little Bulloch County no more.”

New hire

Additional county employees to be hired under the proposed general budget include, for the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office and Jail, four jail detention corporals (two on July 1 and two on January 1), two patrolmen

assistants (one each, July 1 and January 1) and one assistant to be assigned as a school resource officer (July 1) for Stilson Elementary School.

Other new general fund positions are proposed, one each for Clerk of Courts, Tax Assessor and Elections Offices, Animal Services, Building Inspections and Bulloch County Correctional Institute, plus two for parks and recreation. At least three part-time positions are also converted to full-time.

Six new firefighters and a fire inspector are expected to be paid from the county’s rural fire fund, pending grant applications.

Reducing a quarter mill would reduce the countywide base mileage from 11.6 mills to 11.35 mills. But the additional fire department mileage rates for the County Rural Fire District and Statesboro Fire District will remain the same.

A hearing for public comment on the budget — not yet a hearing on the fee increase — is scheduled for the regular meeting of commissioners at 8:30 a.m. on June 21. The commissioners have a convened meeting scheduled for June 28 at 8:30 a.m. to adopt the budget.