ALBANY — While members of the Dougherty County Commission’s Finance Committee recommended approval of a handful of budgets Friday morning, residents of the county’s unincorporated area anxiously awaiting word on a proposed tax increase discovered they will have to wait a while longer to find out.
The committee — made up of County Commissioners Lamar Hudgins, John Hayes and Ewell Lyle — voted to send the budgets for the county’s sales tax funds, confiscated funds, DHR Building fund, lease/commercial fund, grants fund and law library fund to the full County Commission for approval. Hayes was absent due to illness.
The budgets recommended Friday morning total more than $16.6 million.
But the majority of the county’s fiscal year 2013 budget, some $45 million, won’t be considered until Monday, with the fund for the special services district, or unincorporated area, likely not to be considered until the end of the month.
“We’re still not going to make a recommendation on the special services district,” Hudgins, who is the committee’s chair, said. “There’s a proposal to raise the millage rate, and we want to be sure that we have all the understanding, facts and figures before we do that. Probably in the coming weeks we will make a recommendation on that budget.”
If approved by the full commission in late June, the proposed 2-mill tax increase would roughly translate to an $80-per-year increase on property valued at $100,000 for those people who live outside the city of Albany’s corporate limits. It would be the first time since 2000 that the millage rate was increased for the unincorporated area, Hudgins said.
Still, commissioners are receiving a lot of blowback from constituents who don’t believe the county is doing enough to trim its budget, those who say the board is, instead, choosing to take the easy route and raise taxes.
Lyle, who said he was receiving calls from both constituents and non-constituents demanding that he try and stop plans for the increase, reiterated a statement he made during a committee meeting Wednesday, saying he can’t explain to constituents why the millage rate for those in the unincorporated area would be higher than that of those who live in the city when they receive less services.
“I don’t have an answer for them,” Lyle said. “Commerce doesn’t stop on a dotted line that we draw separating the two.”
Both Hudgins and County Administrator Richard Crowdis attempted to explain that it’s difficult to compare the city and the unincorporated area based on millage rates alone, given that the tax digest for the city is higher than in the unincorporated area, meaning essentially that the value of a mill is less in the unincorporated area.
Translation? It takes more mills in the unincorporated area to generate the same amount of revenue than less mills in the city of Albany.
And even though the county budget process is approaching its 11th hour, with a finalized FY 2013 budget required for approval before June 30, Hudgins said he believes there are factors in play that could help reduce the revenues the county will have to raise.
“It’s a fluid, living, breathing object,” Hudgins said. “That’s why we want to wait because a lot could happen between now and the time we have to approve a budget.”
Commissioners could be holding out for another last-minute offer from Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital to bail them out.
Last year, the county was contemplating forcing its employees to take nine unpaid holidays when, in the final month of budget negotiations, Phoebe offered to provide a discount on its contract for medical services for inmates at the Dougherty County Jail. That, coupled with $600,000 in unexpected savings from the county’s health insurance plan, allowed the county to cut the number of unpaid holidays.