With a 3-2 vote the Upson County Board of Commissioners set a preliminary millage rate for 2014 at 18.76 mills in a special called meeting held last week. That is a total increase of 2.26 mills. Commissioners Frank Spraggins and Lorenzo Wilder both voted against the rate.
County Manager Jim Wheeless stated the tax bills sent out will show three millage rates: a general rate (for county-wide) at 11.13 mills; an unincorporated rate of 2.72 mills and a joint project rate (with the City of Thomaston) at 4.91 mills. He noted last year’s rate was 16.5 mills, but if you take the joint projects rate out of the total, the county rate is only 13.85 mills technically. The board also decided not to include a designated mill for industrial development this year due to not wanting to raise the millage rate any more.
Wheeless also noted the overall tax digest for the entire county is shrinking, meaning there will be less property taxes collected and one mill will equal less money than it did last year. He stated the budget the board passed for 2014 was balanced, but they had predicted there would be about an 84 percent collection rate on property taxes and they are thought to come in at only a 79 percent collection rate now. He estimated the county will collect at least $247,500 less on property taxes this year and one mill will now equal roughly $599,000, when last year it equaled close to $620,000.
Commissioner Spraggins stated the board was going to have to begin working harder on a savings plan. He insisted the county needs to implement both hiring and spending freezes and make across the board cuts when it comes to next year’s budget because the county is in dire straits.
“We have just got to tighten our belt,” said Spraggins. “We have been trying to keep people’s jobs, but we have got to start just maintaining each department until we get out of this bind. Because anyone who thinks we aren’t in a bind is not looking at things right. I don’t want to keep having to raise taxes because we didn’t control things.”
The rest of the board agreed that something must be done, starting by meeting with all of the department heads to stress the need for them to make cuts to their budget, or the board will make them for them. A large portion of the county’s overall budget, roughly 35 percent, comes from the constitutional officers’ budgets, which the board does not have much control over. However, they agreed they will have to speak with all of the constitutional officers as well and plead with them to keep their budgets and needs for the year as low as possible.
The commissioners also agreed they want to work as hard as possible over the next two weeks to see if there is a way to get the millage rate for this year any lower. They will formally adopt the rate at a meeting on Wednesday, August 27. The regular meeting that would be on Tuesday, August 26 will be moved to coincide with the meeting on Wednesday evening.
Ashley Biles can be reached by calling 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @AshleyBiles1