ALBANY, Ga. — The Dougherty County Commission has approved a FY 2013 budget that includes a 2-mill tax increase in the unincorporated area of the county.
The budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 was passed in two votes. The vote for the $45.2 million general fund, which didn’t include a tax increase, was 6-0. Commissioner Muarlene Edwards, who is leaving her seat at the end of the year to run for state representative next month, left the meeting before the vote.
The vote for the $7.1 million budget for the special services district that encompasses only the unincorporated part of the county was 4-2, with commissioners John Hayes and Ewell Lyle opposing it.
Commissioners argued that the tax increase was needed based on a combination of factors including a $260,000 deficit that will temporarily be paid by the county’s general fund, which by law will have to be repaid by the Special Services District; population decline; exodus of industries like Merck and Cooper Tire; and a sharp decrease in the amount the county received this year from the state for the insurance premium tax.
Earlier in the meeting Dougherty County Police Chief Don Cheek told commissioners that it would cost $78,000 up front to move his department to the courthouse or jail in a merger with the Sheriff’s Office that was suggested by Lyle as a possible cost savings move.
The millage increase allows the commission to avoid significant cuts to the DCP, the county’s street light program or animal control.
Before the vote, Commissioner Lamar Hudgins gave an impassioned soliloquy justifying his support of the increase.
“There are only three items in that budget that we have discretion over: DCP, animal control and street lights. All three are public safety issues,” Hudgins said. “For the amount of money we’re talking about, to lose the street lights, and then decimate the DCP, I’m not in favor of cutting any kind of public safety.”
Lyle, who has been an ardent opponent of a tax increase since the start of the budgeting process, reiterated his belief that the special tax district — which basically covers all property outside the city limits of Albany — is insolvent.
“The special services district is structurally insolvent,” Lyle said. “I feel like we’ve come into a new era here today where we’re actually borrowing money to pay off the special services district’s shortfall from our general fund budget...it’s a definite sign that the special services district cannot support itself.”
Lyle ended his comments on an ominous tone.
“And I don’t see that changing in the next several years,” he said.
Commissioner John Hayes said that he understood the challenges that the unincorporated area was facing, but couldn’t bring himself to saddle those residents and businesses with a tax increase.
“What we should be doing is looking for some creative ways of generating revenues,” Hayes said. “If we don’t look at the other side of the budget question, then we aren’t addressing our problem.”
Chairman Jeff “Bodine” Sinyard expressed deep reservations about raising taxes, but said that he, like Hudgins, could not cut public safety.
“People say that raising taxes is the easy way out,” said Sinyard. “Let me tell you, it’s tough. It’s tough. No one wants to raise taxes. That’s why we’ve gone through this process.
“But I want the same thing every family in the county wants. I want my kids to be safe. I want to live in a house that, if it burns, can be saved by a quality fire department. Public safety is just too important.”
On a home assessed at $100,000, the tax increase means that the homeowner will pay an additional $80 per year. It’s expected to generate about a $500,000 in revenues for the commission to fund DCP, Fire, Animal Control, Recreation, Planning and Development and Street lights in the unincorporated area.