Butts County residents packed two public hearings on June 18 to protest a proposed millage rate increase and increase in the proposed county budget. Practicing social distancing guidelines, the number of chairs in the Administration Building courtroom were reduced and spaced apart, reducing the number of people allowed in the room.
Butts County is proposing a Fiscal Year 2020-2021 (FY2021) budget of $21,245,745, an increase of $1.1 million over the current budget.
At the public hearing on the budget, Butts County Chief Financial Officer Rhonda Blissitt said increases in health insurance and a need to improve the county’s fund balance are the main factors behind the increased budget.
“Butts County’s fund balance has eroded through the past six years to an unhealthy level of slightly over a month’s worth of available fund balance,” Blissitt said. “With best financial practices, we recommend a four-month fund balance policy. The proposed Fiscal Year 2021 budget is a step in protecting against additional and unexpected events.”
During the public hearing, no one spoke in favor of the budget. Many in the audience said they wanted more information before they decided if they were in favor or against the budget increase.
Barbara Norris was the only person to speak against. She said she was there for herself and on behalf of her elderly mother-in-law. Norris said they have to live on a budget and she feels the county needs to do the same thing.
“We just can’t afford any more increases,” Norris said. “With COVID-19, we’re all hurting; everybody is hurting. So you need to take everybody into consideration, not just the county. You may survive in the long run, but a lot of us won’t. We’ll have to move.”
The Butts County Board of Commissioners are proposing to raise the county’s millage rate by one mill, 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, more property tax revenue is needed to fund the county budget.
Six property owners spoke against the millage rate increase.
Bubba Reese stated he didn’t feel it was right for the county to go up on the millage rate at the same time they went up on property values, especially for senior citizens.
Chase McBrayer said the county needs to go back and look at their budget and find something else to cut.
“You’re spending too much money if you have to go up on our taxes,” he said.
Bob Johnson said he has been a Butts County resident for 42 years and had paid his taxes every year, but that it is getting hard to do.
“I’m now 83 and it is hard to keep up with taxes and increased millage rate,” Johnson said. “I live on a budget. I wonder sometimes if there is any consideration for the people, especially the elderly. Increase hurts.”
Glenda McCray said there is no reason to increase taxes when the county isn’t taking care of the money they already have.
“You don’t have accountability for the money you spend,” she said. “I don’t feel like it is well spent to start with, and there is no reason for a millage rate increase along with an increase in assessments.”
Linda Reese said everyone she has talked to is upset that both their property valuations and millage rate are going up.
“You went up 22% on our valuation, and now you’re going up on the millage rate, too,” Reese said. “I just don’t see why we do like the governor did of decreasing his departments and do a 10% decrease across the board, instead of putting the burden on the senior citizens.”
Josh Sprayberry lives in Putnam County, but owns property in Butts County. He proposed an alternative solution to raise the millage rate.
“Why don’t we increase economic development in Butts County,” he asked. “Why don’t we work to increase our industrial tax base? There are other opportunities to increase the tax base.”
Butts County will hold a final public hearing on the proposed millage rate on Thursday, June 25, at 8 a.m. at the Butts County Administration Building, 625 W. Third Street in Jackson. The commissioners will hold a called meeting following the public hearing at 8:15 a.m. to adopt the budget and adopt the county M&O millage rate.