The county is facing a $12.5 million decline in its tax digest, which is $852,324 more than what was projected previously. The average home value in the county has dropped from $181,000 in 2008 to $107,000 in 2012 for an overall $6 billion reduction in the tax digest from 2008 to 2012.
The 8.15 percent increase the board is proposing is technically not a tax hike, rather an increase to net the same amount of dollars collected in the 2011-12 fiscal year, according to the commissioners. The increase is from 13.595 mills to 14.5 mills.
The commissioners adopted a $115.5 million budget in June before the state-mandated July 1 deadline, with the consent to revise it after several commissioners expressed discontent with having furlough days for employees again.
The new budget of $116.9 million removes the furlough days.
Three public hearings were scheduled for residents to express their opinions on the millage rate increase, and the commission was set to vote on the matter Wednesday after the Neighbor went to press.
A handful of residents were present at the July 25 evening, which followed a morning meeting the same day. Out of the three residents who spoke, only one was in opposition of the tax.
Resident Don Dunlap approached the commissioners, offering his support for the increase with one caveat.
“When my property value goes up, I’m anticipating you guys lowering the millage rate so you can keep this balance,” he said. “I think you’ve cut stuff down pretty much to the bone, and it would best serve us to increase the millage rate and pay the same dollar amount so we can keep those services going.”
Finance Director Mike Bush said he has seen, on two different occasions, the commissioners roll back the millage rate to avoid tax increases for residents.
Locust Grove resident Ralph Thomas spoke directly to the other residents in attendance, sharing his experience serving on the citizens’ budget review committee, which took part in the budgeting process earlier in the year.
“I came to those meetings initially as a skeptic, perhaps some of you are,” he said.
But during the course of a four-day period, the group heard all there was about the county’s financial situation, and afterwards, the group was in favor of a millage rate increase.
“As one of the citizens of this county, I don’t want to see my millage rate go up,” Thomas said. “But we’re a growing county, we have a good lifestyle in this county, and I don’t see any other solution.”