COVINGTON — The Newton County Board of Commissioners reached a consensus to reduce the millage rate from 11.54 to 11.225 to save taxpayers some money in fiscal year 2015.
Although Commissioner John Douglas and Chairman Keith Ellis were against adopting a millage rate greater than 11, the majority felt the need to provide employee raises and quality county services.
Commissioner J.C. Henderson said the biggest question was what kind of services does the board want to provide for the community.
“The biggest question is what level of service are we going to provide for our citizens? We know first of all that when it comes down to the fire department and sheriff’s department, we’re losing employees,” Henderson said. “They’re moving to other counties for better pay. We need a plan to give our employees raises.”
Commissioners Lanier Sims, Levie Maddox and Nancy Schulz wanted to have a long-term plan to improve salaries for county employees.
“We’ve asked employees to take less holidays, not take pay raises and asked a lot from them since 2009,” Sims said. “I think they’ve lost hope in the board. Because they’ve looked at us and waited. I don’t think it needs to be a large raise, but need to look through strategic planning how we can train employees and keep them here.”
With the 11.225 millage rate, the county would be able to give 2 percent raises to employees hired before 2008 and 1 percent raises for employees hired between 2009 and 2011, according to Assistant County Manager Tom Garrett.
The cost to give the raises starting in January 2015 is $190,000 for six months and if the board approves to continue the raises into the fiscal year 2016 it would cost about $380,000 for a full year.
Schulz said many don’t realize the difficulty of the budget process and deciding where the money goes.
“We can easily subtract and get a balanced budget, but what are the ramifications?” Schulz said. “We can look at appropriations, can deduct it and lower the millage rate to 10.99 or even lower, but what is the impact of services if we do that?”
Schulz agreed that employee raises were important and urged the board to focus on a long-term plan on how to save money in employee training and retain employees during a strategic planning session in September.
Commissioners also agreed to purchase metal detectors for both the Administration Building and the Historic Courthouse and create a security plan due to House Bill 60 becoming law July 1. Henderson also asked the board to consider installing security measures at the recreation center because of previous incidents that could have turned worse.
In order to move forward in the budget process, the county will need to host three public hearings before approving the millage rate. The meetings will be advertised for 11 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. on July 9 and 6:30 p.m. July 17. Commissioners also considered the millage rates for the fire district, ambulances and Newton Medical Center.
Because no past or present numbers have been presented to the board for the hospital or ambulance service, commissioners were reluctant to come to a consensus on those millage rates.