August 29—ALBANY — It’s official; taxes are rising for property owners across the county with the Dougherty County Commission’s Monday approval of a higher mileage rate.
Before the 4-3 vote, commissioners heard from two county residents, including the Reverend Robert Lewis. The minister requested that the commission establish a review committee to examine the budget and possibly make recommendations on spending.
The tax increase will be a burden on the elderly, he said.
“We are concerned about taxes,” Lewis said. “I think there should be a citizen oversight committee and an audit to look at the condition that is driving this need which appears to be in crisis action mode.
“Right now, approving this without having the opinion of the citizens, without the audit, I think it is concerning.”
Lewis was one of the few people to show up for the three public hearings required before a tax increase was passed. The new tax rate is expected to increase the amount of taxes by $12 per month on property valued at $100,000.
The county’s 2022-23 budget for the general fund budget, which covers day-to-day operations and expenses, was initially $0.3 million lower, at $58.6 million, than the county’s spending plan. last year of $58.9 million.
However, the implementation of a salary study that increased the salaries of almost all employees and also includes a lump sum payment of $1,000 at the end of the year added $3 million to the final price.
“I would like to consider forming a citizens’ committee,” said Commissioner Victor Edwards, who along with Commissioners Gloria Gaines and Clinton Johnson voted against increasing the mileage rate. “I think it’s something worth watching, what it would look like.”
One item that did not have an impact on the budget was the commission members’ salaries.
“Commissioners make $1,000 (a month) and haven’t changed in 27 years,” Edwards said.
Commission Chairman Chris Cohilas, who was supported in approving the general fund mileage rate of 19.069 mils by commissioners Russell Gray, Anthony Jones and Ed Newsome, also indicated he was receptive to the suggestion. of Lewis.
“I think we’re always looking for ways to be more transparent,” he said. “I always say it’s your government, it’s available to you. I appreciate people taking the time to come and speak to the commission.”
After several meetings where the issue was debated, the board had no discussion before the final vote.
The commission’s financial adviser initially recommended a 4.5 million increase but also said a 3.5 million increase would work and if financial conditions improve the additional plant may not be necessary later.
In an earlier meeting, Johnson said his preference was to tear the bandage all at once with the highest number of 4.5 mills rather than piecemeal.
The issue of raising taxes was no surprise, Jones said during the meeting’s closing remarks, as the county was told in 2017 that the day was approaching.
“We are here in 2022,” he said. “They said that between 2022 and 2023 was when the wheel was going to come off. We may not have communicated that as well to the citizens as we should have. An increase in the mileage rate is always a subject painful. What we did today is not going to be popular with a lot of people.”
The increase was necessary to provide quality services, including ambulance and fire services, the commissioner said.
“Some say ‘cut the fat,'” Johnson said. “I’m telling you we’re 130 staff short. Where are we going to cut the fat? The commission has been good stewards of taxpayers’ money.
“We’re one of the few counties that has no debt; we don’t owe anyone anything. You call it taxes. I call it paying for service.”