Stephens Co. Commission Cuts Proposed Mill Rate Hike To 2.34

Stephens County Commissioners are scaling back a proposed millage rate increase.

Thursday, the county commission met to discuss the already approved Fiscal Year 2015 county budget in an effort to find cuts to help offset what has been a proposed 2.85 mill increase.

During that meeting, commissioners found cuts to reduce the proposed millage rate increase by .51 of a mill.

That means Stephens County is now proposing a 2.34 mill increase to fund its Fiscal Year 2015 budget, taking the millage rate from 11.32 to 13.66.

Stephens County Administrator Phyllis Ayers said the county was able to find some savings after the budget was approved thanks to changes employees made in their health insurance plans.

“Our health insurance increased so significantly that many of the employees dropped their family coverage or maybe moved to their spouse’s plan or moved to employee-spouse, or were employee-spouse and moved to employee only (coverage),” said Ayers.

Ayers said that resulted in $156,000 in savings to the county government.

Also, Ayers said the actual tax digest came in a little better than expected, providing some extra revenue help.

However, Stephens County Commissioners did make a number of cuts to the budget.

First, commissioners agreed unanimously to eliminate the litter crew it had been obtaining from Lee Arrendale State Prison at a savings of $43.703.

Also, Stephens County Sheriff Randy Shirley agreed to lower his request for additional deputies from four to two, provided the county add two deputies in Fiscal Year 2016.

Commissioner Dennis Bell said he would go along with the sheriff’s suggestion.

“The thing we need to look at in the letter and make sure we understand is he said he would go down to two this year, but he does want two next year,” said Bell. “It ain’t no maybe.”

However, Commissioner Michelle Grafton said she was not in favor of cutting those deputies.

“If he wanted four and we give him two on the agreement we give him two next year, I do not want to be in the same position next year where we have to go up on the millage rate to give him that,” said Grafton. “I would be in favor of giving them all to him now and working to reduce the millage rate next year.”

Grafton was out-voted 4-1 and the four deputy positions were cut to two.

Also, commissioners cut $25,000 from a line item set aside to start re-building the county’s undesignated fund balance, which the county used up in recent years to cover budget shortfalls.

Some requests were not approved. For example, commissioners did not approve a suggestion from Commissioner Stanley London to offset about $200,000 in salaries in the public works department with SPLOST VI money or a proposal from Grafton to cut $25,000 from the humane shelter’s budget.

In all, county commissioners cut about $319,000 from the Fiscal Year 2015 budget.

County Commission Chairman Dean Scarborough said it has been a very challenging process.

“We understand how hard it is,” said Scarborough. “We are all property tax payers as well. We did further study and we brought several items to the table and passed several of them to make further reductions.”

The Stephens County Commission is scheduled to vote on the proposed 2.34 mill increase at its regular meeting on Tuesday.

Prior to the vote, the county commission will hold its third and final public hearing on the proposed mill rate increase on Tuesday at 5 p.m. at the historic Stephens County Courthouse in downtown Toccoa.