Many citizens were on hand to express their displeasure with the Upson County Board of Commissioners and their proposed increase of the millage rate to 16.5 mills at the two public hearings held on Wednesday, August 21. Several people stated the community is overtaxed as it is and this is only putting the burden on the land owners.
“I feel like I am being punished for being a property owner in Upson County,” Robert Young told the board Wednesday evening.
His sentiments were echoed by several others who urged the board not to vote for this increase, as many families and individuals in the community are struggling to make ends meet as it is and will not be able to afford it. Miriam Griffin stated that even though the increase could be just $20 a month more for someone who has escrow, for many that is taking away money used to buy groceries and feed their families.
“You can’t throw this amount of money out on people at one time,” said Griffin. “This is just a lot of money for some people this time of year.”
One citizen told the board that when his income does not meet his expenses, he finds ways to cut out spending rather than spend more; and he asked what the county has done in that respect. \
Chairman Rusty Blackston replied the county is being very frugal when it comes to working with department heads the 2014 budget, trying to get the amount below what was improved for 2013 and look at reducing the cost of insurance premiums paid for employees by the county. The quarter of a million dollar insurance increase is one of the things Blackston cites as the cause for a budget shortfall for 2013.Currently, the county pays 85 percent with the employee only paying 15 percent of the premium. However, he noted that it is a fine line to walk because if too much is put on the employees, then they may start looking for employment elsewhere.
County Manager Jim Wheeless also offered the explanation that the county does not operate on a pay as you go type of plan; they borrow money each year in the form of a TAN (Tax Anticipation Note) and use the money collected from taxes to pay it off at the end of the year. Therefore the money they borrow each year is based off projected revenues and some years, such as this year, things have come up short.
Other reasons the board has given for the need of an increase is due to the continual shrinkage of the tax digest, a decrease in property values and the setting aside of $600,000, or roughly one mill, for the Thomaston-Upson Industrial Development Authority. Several people criticized the board for choosing to fund the TUIDA the additional money, stating that they have not seen any businesses come into the community and stay over the last few years and they did not see the need to place the extra burden on the tax payers.
One citizen, Sam Baity, however, commended the board for taking what he feels is a vital step to get the community moving forward.
“Between 2000 and 2010, Upson County has lost 3,000 residents,” said Baity, “and I think in order to get us going in the right direction, giving the money to the IDA was a good idea.”
The board also defended their decision, stating that without the additional money Upson County would not even be in the game of economic development. Wheeless stated that without other industries coming into town and contributing to the tax base, it is almost inevitable for taxes to continue to go up. Chairman Blackston also told the crowd that the money is not just being given to the TUIDA to use at will either. It is to be placed in an account through the county and is only to be used if needed as a form of incentive to help bring a business prospect into the community.
Ed Boggs noted that the $600,000 is merely a drop in the bucket compared to what the county will collect through property taxes and he feels the board needs to make cuts to non-essential services when dealing with financial times such as this. One example he gave was the City Swimming Pool, which he feels is not a needed service in the community, noting he does not have a pool because he can’t afford it and the county should apply the same principal. He also asked the board to give more of an explanation to the citizens as to why they are raising taxes as well as what the money is being used for. Chairman Blackston stated the board has plans to have the information broken down on the tax bills in the future.
Blackston also asked that citizens compare their tax bill from this year to the ones that they have received in the past before the rollback that occurred last year. He gave a few statistics as an example during the public hearing. For a $100,000 house, the taxes in 2010 were $508 and they stayed the same for 2011 because the millage rate did not change. Then in 2012, if there had not been a rollback to 7.77 they would have been $542 with the increase to 13.54. For 2013, that same house would see a tax bill of $660 and he noted that yes it is still an increase; but it is not as big of one as it may seem.
“Does everyone remember last year when the board said we are giving $3 million back (per Georgia law for unused SPLOST money), that it was a onetime shot, Christmas present,” asked Blackston. “Everyone is looking at what they paid last year. We are asking you to look at what it would have been without the rollback and compare that to what we are going to ask for now.”
There will be another chance for the citizens of Upson County to voice their opinions to the Board of Commissioners before the millage rate is officially set. There will be a public hearing held in the City-County meeting room of the Government Complex on Wednesday, August 28 at 6 p.m. and then the 2013 rate will be set at a meeting at 7 p.m. in the same location.