Stephens Co. Residents Speak on Proposed Tax Hike

Stephens County residents speak on a proposed tax increase.

Tuesday, county commissioners held the first public hearing on the proposed Fiscal Year 2015 budget.

The county is proposing a Fiscal Year 2015 budget that includes a 2.85 mill tax increase on property owners.

Resident James Thomas said he wants to know why the county waited to do one large increase.

“If we had gone one mill three years ago, we would not be facing almost a three mill increase now,” said Thomas.

A 2.85 mill increase would take Stephens County’s millage rate from 11.32 mills to 14.17 mills.

For a $100,000 home with no exemptions, that would result in an increase of $114 in the yearly tax bill to support county government services, not including the school system.

Resident Ted Johnson said a 25 percent increase in the millage rate is too much at one time.

“Like others, I realize a tax increase is necessary because prices change,” said Johnson. “Everything goes up except the wages as you well know. I would beg you to look at maybe a five percent increase over the next five years, something like that. 25 percent all at once is going to be a burden on a lot of folks.”

Resident and former Board of Education Chair Jerry Steele said he understands that taxes need to go up, but cites the condition of the road he lives on, Easy Street, and says he wants residents to get something for the increase.

“Please give us something for this, something we can look forward to,” said Steele. “Take care of our roads. I know the road I live on is not the only one in bad shape, but I am familiar with it because I travel on it every day.”

One addition in the proposed budget for next fiscal year is four additional deputies for the Sheriff’s Office.

Currahee Club Managing Director Andrew Ward said those additional deputies are important and need to remain in the budget.

“You read about the lack of people he has available on a shift in the county,” said Ward, referring to published reports where the sheriff talks about a lack of deputies. “It is a little scary from my perspective as a developer because I do not want there to be any red flags to stop people from wanting to come out and make this their home and it does cause them concern when they read things like this.”

The proposed budget also still includes an increase in the county’s contribution to the Development Authority from $50,000 to $180,000, and a part-time position has been added back to the county’s probation department.

When subtracting the projected SPLOST VI collections from the budget in Fiscal Year 2015, the total expenditures in the proposed budget for next fiscal year are just over $16.03 million.

That is only a few thousand dollars more than the projected year end expenditures for the current fiscal year of about $15.96 million.

In talking about the proposed millage rate increase last month, Stephens County Administrator Phyllis Ayers cited multiple financial challenges for the county.

For example, Ayers said property tax revenues have declined over recent years due to a drop in the county’s overall tax digest and also because the county is out of undesignated fund balance that has been used in this fiscal year and recent years to cover budget shortfalls.

The proposed Fiscal Year 2015 budget does include about $118,000, or a fifth of one mill, that is to be set aside to start rebuilding that undesignated fund balance.

Stephens County Commissioners are expected to vote on the county’s Fiscal Year 2015 budget at their next meeting on June 24.