By votes of 4-1, with Russ Crumbley casting the dissenting vote both times, the Butts County Board of Commissioners approved the Fiscal Year 2020-2021 (FY2021) budget and a one mill property tax increase at a called public hearing and meeting on June 25.
The FY2021 budget of $21,245,745 is an increase of $1.1 million over the current budget. Commissioners say the increase is needed because of increased health insurance premiums, an increase in employee retirement, and a need to increase the county’s depleted fund balance.
The one mill increase will raise the county’s millage rate from 12.209 mills to 13.209 mills. It will mean an increase of 16.06% in property taxes, which have already gone up for most property owners through increased valuations of their homes and property.
But with deficits in collections of local sales taxes, licenses and permits, and housing, landfill and court fees, all mainly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the commissioners have said more property tax revenue is needed to fund the county budget.
The increases in the budget and millage rate didn’t sit well with many county residents, who packed two public hearings last week. The majority of those who spoke at the hearings said it was unfair for the county to increase the millage rate at the some time that property value assessments have gone up, and that the elderly in the county, who are already limited in what their budgets can handle, will be affected the hardest.
Robert Martin was the only citizen present at the June 25 public hearing to speak. He said he felt the millage rate increase will hurt more county residents than it will help, and that rather than taxing people’s property, the county needs to be attracting more business.
Following the votes, Crumbley said he voted against the budget and millage rate increases because of the current economic crisis residents are facing.
“Based on the economic times we’re in right now, I feel like it is not a good time to be considering a budget increase or a millage rate increase on the citizens of Butts County,” Crumbley said.
But in a letter Commission Chair Kenneth Rivers sent to the Progress-Argus and posted on his Facebook page, Rivers said he voted for the budget and tax increases because he found it necessary given the county’s current economic condition.
“For the past three years our staff has worked hard to do more with less in an attempt to recover a depleted fund balance,” Rivers wrote. “ Wehave cut positions, outsourced jobs to save benefit costs, utilized as much inmate labor as possible and many other saving methods. With the uncertainty of revenues due to the pandemic and without the safety net of months’ worth of fund balance, I found myself forced to consider and ultimately vote in favor of a millage increase for my first time in office.”
Rivers went on to say he hopes the millage increase will be a temporary one to get the county through until commercial projects already under construction will start bringing in more tax revenue.
“Over the past year the BOC voted for the largest rezoning in the history of Butts County,” Rivers wrote. “This development will bring many tax dollars into Butts County in the years to come. We are currently working with another developer on a development agreement that would rezone another 300 acres for commercial development. We are planning for the future, but we also must take care of current needs.”