Monroe County commissioners appear to have the votes to raise property taxes 1.5 mills this year despite $2.1 million in new revenue from rising property values.
Commissioners Greg Tapley, John Ambrose and Lamarcus Davis, three of the five, all voiced support for raising the millage rate 1.5 mills at a meeting Tuesday. The owner of a $200,000 home would see their property tax bill go up about $80 on top of any increase in value. The three commissioners said they will roll back the property tax increase next year if voters approve an increase in the sales tax from 7 to 8 percent for roads in November. Voters have rejected a similar referendum three times in the past eight years. But not all commissioners are on board with the tax hike.
“No way I’m gonna support a millage increase. Period,” said District 4 commissioner George Emami. “At some point we’re gonna have to realize we have the funds we have to work with, and we need to figure out how to make those funds work for us most efficiently.”
Emami said he’s ready to accept that people who move to Monroe County from Henry County or Macon will be underwhelmed by services offered by local government. He said the only way to change that would be to raise taxes on the people who’ve been here a long time.
County manager Jim Hedges laid out $5.1 million in new spending that would require the tax hike as commissioners prepare to set the tax rate. Tax bills will go out this fall and are due in December. Hedges’ new spending plans in 2022 include:
• $2.4 million for roads
• $700,000 for new emergency services staff to man more fire stations;
• $450,000 for a new fire truck;
• $200,000 for a new ambulance;
• $418,000 for unbudgeted positions;
• $504,000 cost of living raise for employees, and
• $450,000 for capital additions.
To curb costs, Emami said the county may need to ask county employees to pay more for their very generous healthcare plan for employees. He said he’s never had such health insurance his entire life, and that it’s much better than what most small businesses have. As a result, Emami said the county attracts employees who need to spend a lot on health insurance. He said he wants to punt the budget back to Hedges to figure out how to balance it without a tax hike.
But District 3 commissioner Ambrose said he supports the tax hike.
“I say we go with the 1.5-mill increase,” said Ambrose. “We’ve got to provide better services.”
Ambrose said county departments are already cut “down to the bone”.
Chairman Tapley said a lot of the costs to the county come from having to follow expensive state and federal regulations, including $4 million the county must spend adding a cell to its landfill. He also said that the county has failing equipment that has to be replaced.
The new District 1 commissioner, Davis noted that Hedges had originally proposed a 3-mill tax hike and they already pared it down to 1.5 mills.
“They done worked on it and worked on it as much as they can,” said Davis. “I pay taxes too but this is a need right now. Previous boards weren’t doing what they should do and that’s why we’re in this. I’m taking heat too. But we don’t have a choice. If T SPLOST passes, we’re gonna roll it back. I’m willing to take the hit this year.”
But District 2 commissioner Eddie Rowland, who joined the meeting by phone, said his constituents do not favor a tax increase.
“I feel like the general public doesn’t want to bite off that much,” said Rowland. “They do understand that fire service needs improving, but if that means a tax increase then no. They want to follow the money we have and not increase the millage rate. That’s what I’m hearing.”
Emami agreed, noting county spending has gone up from $25 million per year five years ago to $33 million.
“What other fat can these departments figure out how to cut?” asked Emami. “There’s no better way to find that fat than to be forced to cut. Tell (road department manager Watts) Junior to cut and he knows who the slackers are in his business, just like I do in my business. We have to figure out how to live within our means.”
Emami said Monroe County is rural and there’s no way they can make everyone happy. He said for some people it’s going to take a while for an ambulance to get to their home.
“If that’s a problem,” said Emami, “you need to move closer. But for those of us not OK with a tax increase, enough is enough. If somebody doesn’t speak up, we’re about to have a tax increase. I don’t think that’s necessary.”
Commissioners didn’t take any action but must soon set the millage as they begin finalizing their 2022 budget.