Decatur County commissioners will hold a public hearing on the proposed budget on Tuesday, August 11 at 8:30 a.m., just prior to their regular meeting at 9 a.m. at the County Administration Building.
Note: We were told Friday that another public hearing will be held on the proposed budget at a date that will be announced on Tuesday morning. Commissioners’Â vote on the budget won’t take place until after the 2nd public hearing.
New County Administrator Alan Thomas said commissioners will hold the hearing at 8:30 a.m. In the following weeks of August, county commissioners will need to advertise the proposed millage rate increase that goes along with the budget, and hold two public hearings on the millage rate increase, according to Thomas.
Finally, Decatur County Tax Commissioner Don Belcher will transmit the approved millage rate, along with the millage rate adopted by the Decatur County Board of Education, to the Georgia Department of Revenue. Belcher had to obtain an extension from the Department of Revenue to send in the millage rates no later than Sept. 1. In a normal year, the county’s budget would have been adopted in June, in time for the start of the county’s fiscal year on July 1. This year, in part because there had been an interim administrator working since April 30, the budget adoption was delayed until now.
Decatur County officials who worked on the budget said the millage rate increase will likely be 3.5 mills for City of Bainbridge property owners and about 3.9 mills for people who own property outside of Bainbridge city limits.
It’s fair to say that this is a significant millage rate increase and will cause a corresponding increase on Decatur County property tax bills.
Perry Henry, a Bainbridge CPA who helped craft the budget while serving as an interim administrator for Decatur County this summer, said the millage rate increase is almost exclusively due to agreements county commissioners made with the City of Bainbridge during their Service Delivery negotiations in April of this year.
County leaders told us they wanted to make clear that the millage rate increases were due to the impact of the service delivery agreement, and not that county departments were seeing big budget increases for things like salary.
“When you look at the budget, you can see that some county departments’ spending went up, and some went down,” Henry said. “However, I wouldn’t anticipate that the county’s millage rate would have needed to increase, except for the cost of implementing the Service Delivery Agreement.”
Decatur County commissioners agreed to help the Memorial Hospital authority with offsetting some of the cost of providing indigent care. The county agreed to make a contribution up to what would be generated by two mills of property tax, depending on the hospital’s annual need. While county leaders were still talking numbers with Memorial Hospital, Henry said he expects this year’s funding for indigent care will max out the 2 mills.
Another millage rate increase will come from an agreement by the City of Bainbridge and Decatur County to form a joint recreational authority. The new recreational authority will be funded by 1.5 mills of property tax assessed to all property owners in Decatur County. Starting in Summer 2016, the recreation authority will be responsible for providing the recreation programs which have been operated by the City of Bainbridge up to now, including youth baseball, softball, football and cheerleading. The City of Bainbridge, which increased its millage rate by 2 mills in August 2014, will keep its parks and grounds maintenance operation after the recreational authority gets up and running.
Owners of property outside Bainbridge city limits will likely be facing an additional 0.4 mills on their property tax bills. This is again due to the Service Delivery agreement, according to Henry and new Decatur County Administrator Alan Thomas.
The service delivery agreement lists several functions of Decatur County government that were determined to be ones that mostly benefitted residents of unincorporated Decatur County. These services include Decatur County Fire and Rescue, operation of the water and sewer system at the Decatur County Industrial Park off U.S. 27, and the Decatur County Prison (which provides inmate labor to county departments and other local governments).
Decatur County commissioners will have until July 2016 to consider creation of an enterprise fund for the Decatur County Prison. The enterprise fund means the prison would have to generate enough revenue to match the expense of keeping it open. County commissioners could either choose to keep the prison open, and take measures to balance its budget (such as charging customers more for inmate labor) or consider shutting down the prison at a future date.
In the meantime, the additional 0.3-0.4 mills will be levied for services judged to not primarily benefit City of Bainbridge residents (such as Fire and Rescue).
CPA Henry, who has also been busy working on the documentation needed to submit a proposed millage rate increase to the Georgia Department of Revenue for its oversight, said what will probably happen on tax bills sent out this fall is the following:
- Both City of Bainbridge and Decatur County taxpayers will see their base millage rate levied by Decatur County government. (The tax bill also lists the millage rate for the Decatur County Board of Education and the City of Bainbridge millage rate will be the same as 2014.)
- Both City of Bainbridge and Decatur County property owners will see additional line items reflecting the millage increase for Memorial Hospital and the recreational authority.
- Property owners outside of the City of Bainbridge (this includes Brinson, Climax and Attapulgus) will see an additional line item reflecting the millage increase needed to fund Fire and Rescue and other so-called “county-only” services.