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Newton BOC mulls tax hike to avoid layoffs

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

COVINGTON -- Chairman Kathy Morgan is recommending commissioners adopt a millage increase of at least 1.2 mills in order to keep county services at the current level and avoid laying off more than 50 employees.

Morgan proposed adopting the rollback millage of 12.12 mills at Thursday evening's work session. The rollback rate is what is needed to generate the same amount of revenue as in the previous year. The millage rate is currently 10.91.

If the millage remains at the current rate, it would mean cutting 52 jobs, she said. The county previously cut about 60 employees during the last two budget years. That doesn't include positions that have been left unfilled by attrition.

"We know it's not easy to do a tax increase. We know there's not sentiment to do a tax increase. But the bottom line for us is we have to have a stable county," Morgan said, adding that a continued reduction in quality of services could result in a downgrade of the county's credit rating.

Adopting the rollback rate would bring revenues to $46.28 million, to match this year's budget. Keeping the current millage would mean a shortfall of more than $2.5 million.

The millage increase would add 19.39 cents per acre to residential property owners tax bills and 24 cents per acre to property owners with agricultural land, Morgan said. Commercial property owners would see the greatest impact, she added.

Included in the proposal are solid waste fees totaling $768,000, generated by charging residents $2 per month, or $24 per year, to use the landfill and recycling centers.

The fee would be included on residents' tax bills, and decals would be required for vehicles in order to use the facilities, Morgan said. Those living in apartment complexes or multi-family dwellings would have a designated spot to come and purchase a decal after providing proof of residency.

Morgan's proposal would increase funding to the Recreation Commission by $120,000 to account for additional expenses of four new facilities: Cousins Gym, Denny Dobbs Park, Nelson Heights Community Center and Fairview Community Park. Morgan said charging a fee for park use would wind up costing the county to hire employees and gate facilities.

The proposal also includes a fuel increase of $150,000 for the Newton County Sheriff's Office and of $214,421 for prisoner expenses, such as food and medical care.

The library's request would be reduced by $200,000 and E911's by $65,000, although that department would still get an additional $45,000.

Morgan proposed restoring five days of paid holidays to employees at a cost of $321,000. Employees currently take 15 unpaid holidays. Employees would not receive raises or cost of living increases.

"We're still looking for answers. We've got feelers out; we're talking to people for ideas to generate revenue," Morgan said.

The next budget meeting will take place at 6:30 p.m. Monday, June 6, at the Newton County Historic Courthouse, located at 1124 Clark St.