2008-06-19 / Front Page

Tax reform, budget top agenda at BOC meeting

The construction of the new gymnasium at the Curry Colvin Recreation Complex is well underway. In addition to the actual gym, the building will also house a concession stand; restroom and shower facilities; office and storage space; a meeting room, measuring roughly 530 square feet; and a fitness center. The project, which is being funded by SPLOST revenues, is expected to reach completion in September. The construction of the new gymnasium at the Curry Colvin Recreation Complex is well underway. In addition to the actual gym, the building will also house a concession stand; restroom and shower facilities; office and storage space; a meeting room, measuring roughly 530 square feet; and a fitness center. The project, which is being funded by SPLOST revenues, is expected to reach completion in September. Tax reform and the FY 2009 Budget topped the agenda at the regular meeting of the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners held Thursday, June 12.

At the outset of the meeting, Commission Chairman Walker Norman addressed the commissioners and the citizens of Lincoln County, saying, "Five months ago in my State of the County address, I told you that I was concerned about the ability of Lincoln County's senior citizens and others on limited incomes to pay the county's portion of their property taxes. I also stated that there was expected to be a number of statewide tax reform plans introduced in the 2008 Georgia Legislative Session, and that I felt we should wait to see what tax reform measures our state leaders passed into law."

According to the chairman, not a single tax reform bill had been passed at the end of the legislative session.

"Rather than waiting on our state leaders to bridge their divide, I am moving forward with my own plan to research, develop, and present a tax reform proposal to the commis- sion later this year. The failure in an election year of 236 legislators, who collectively represent 9.5 million Georgians, to agree on a single tax reform bill demonstrates the complexity of the issue and the absolute need to find the right reform plan for Lincoln County."

In other comments, Chairman Norman said that in order to begin a meaningful discussion on tax reform, local residents have to understand the limits placed on local governments by the State Constitution.

"County governments are limited to either increasing homestead exemptions or a homestead valuation freeze and then only after a three-step process, which includes approval by the board of commissioners, the General Assembly, and a majority of the county's voters."

The chairman went on to explain that any plan sponsored by the county will affect only that portion of the property tax bill that deals with an individual's primary residence. Commercial property, pasture and timber land, lots, second homes, rental property, and so forth are not covered by such plans and will likely have to absorb the shift of taxes from homesteads.

Norman pointed out that citizens must also be aware of the popular misconception that 100 percent of all property taxes collected are under the control of the board of commissioners. "In fact, approximately 40 percent of all property taxes or 40 cents on the dollar is collected for county government operations, including public safety, the courts, and public works. The remaining 60 percent or 60 cents on the dollar belongs to the school board, the development authority, and the State of Georgia.

"Each of these entities has the authority to levy taxes independently. While state law caps the amount each can levy, the board of commissioners has no say-so in how much property tax is collected by these entities."

At this point in his remarks, Chair- man Norman noted that public input will be an important factor in the development of a tax reform plan for the county. Those with comments and suggestions may contact the chairman at www.lincoln county ga.com or wnorman@lincoln countyga.com.

"Since our state leaders have failed to implement a tax relief program, I want you to know that I am committed to finding a plan that is right for Lincoln County, and that I will work diligently with the board of commissioners and you, the citizens, to draft a plan that will provide the greatest relief to those who need it the most - a plan that will be supported by all of us."

Chairman Norman then shifted to the topic of the FY 2009 Budget, stating that a tentative budget of $6,624,321 was presented to the Finance Committee last week.

The budget reflects a $355,271 increase over last year's budget.

"It's a good budget, but nobody got near what they wanted," said the chairman. "Economically, these are hard times - people are spending most of their net income on gas and food. We didn't want to burden the taxpayer."

The proposed budget includes:

.. The purchase of one vehicle for the sheriff's office.

.. Capital outlay projects that are considered necessities. "We cut a good bit out here," said Norman.

.. A three-percent salary increase for all employees. Of the $355,271 overall increase in the budget, raises account for $125,000 of this amount.

If the tax digest increases by five percent as anticipated, the county plans to decrease the millage rate by 0.13 mills. Over the past seven years, the county's millage rate has dropped a total of 4.5 mills

The commission plans to adopt the final budget at a called meeting set for Thursday, June 26, at 6 p.m. in the courtroom on the second floor of the courthouse.

In other business, the county:

.. Heard the Department of Public Safety Report given by Director Ernie Doss, who said the ambulance and fire/rescue services responded to 113 calls for emergency assistance during the month of May. Call volume was down 13 calls when compared to May of 2007.

Concerning the E-911 center, operators handled 875 emergency calls last month, monitored 6,651 radio transmissions, and dispatched a total of 570 public safety, law enforcement, and fire calls.

In his comments, Director Doss said the E-911 center is now Phase 11 compliant, which means dispatchers have the ability to pinpoint the exact location of all wireless 911 callers.

Addressing Doss, Chairman Norman said, "I think we will be setting the pace for rural counties - this speaks well of you and your people."

.. Heard the Department of Public Works Report given by Director Roby Seymour, who said his office billed 1,332 water customers and 417 "availability" customers last month for a total of $45,745.41.

Concerning roads, the director reported that his staff has been busy hauling crush-and-run and sand, working on signage, patching potholes, motor grading, clearing trees and limbs off of roads, bush-hogging, cleaning out ditches, and working on various projects at the Curry Colvin Recreation Complex.

.. Heard the Recreation Department Report given by Director Kathie Davis, who indicated that attendance has picked up at the pool, which opened May 27.

Also, workers are now in the process of setting the roof on the new gymnasium at the recreation complex, and the block work on the outside has nearly reached completion.

In closing, Director Davis informed the commission that the "Thunder Cup Softball Tournament" with McCormick County is set for Thursday, June 26, at 7 p.m. at the complex.

.. Heard the Finance Department Report given by Director Traci Bussey.

.. Heard the Planning and Zoning Department Report given by Director Meg Burg, who said her office issued 10 business licenses during the month of May for a total of $530.

Regarding code enforcement, 54 building permits were issued last month for a total of $2,295, and 177 building inspections were conducted.

The director likewise reported that effective July 1, 2008, garbage collection rates will increase by 38 cents per month.

"The commissioners should be proud that they had the foresight to include a three-percent cap on rate increases in their contract with Advance Disposal," said Burg. "With the cost of gas on the rise, it will save residents of the county a lot of money. This is a reasonable increase."

.. Voted to grant a request from the developers of the Serenity Pointe subdivision for a cash bond reduction in the amount of $96,293.51, which will leave a balance of $1,847,033.50 in the account.

.. Voted to stripe the following roads at a cost of $10,392: Ashmore-Barden Road, Maxim Road, Rowland-York Road, Gill's Point Road, Hephzibah Church Road, and Plantation Point Road. The roads total 21.32 miles.

.. Voted to accept a right of way deed for .96 acres on Ann Scott Drive from Jennifer and Dennis Parks. The property will enable developers to widen the road into The Retreat at Lake Thurmond from 50 to 70 feet. The right-of-way was purchased by the developers of the new subdivision.

.. Voted to sell a variety of surplus equipment including a dump truck, three Ford Crown Victorias, and a bush-hog.

.. Voted to pave the following roads at a cost of $138,168: Apachee Drive, Cherokee Drive, Cheyenne Drive, Apalachee Drive, and Midway Church Road, a total of 1.32 miles.

The project will be funded using SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) monies.

It was further mentioned that the county plans to try to obtain state contracts to pave Indian Road this year and Graball Road in 2009.

.. Voted to hire Mauldin & Jenkins, LLC to conduct the county's annual audit.

.. Voted to adopt an amendment to the Transit System Substance Abuse Policy, changing the medical review officer from Dr. Wayne Keller to Dr. Brian N. Heinen.

.. Voted to approve an application for an Assistance for Firefighters Grant for the purchase of a new ambulance. The county's share of the $100,000 grant will amount to $6,000.

.. Voted to approve an application for a Federal SAFER Grant for the recruitment and retention of firefighters. There is no local match requirement for the grant. .. Heard the first reading of an ordinance authorizing the imposition of curfews during times of emergency or disaster.

.. Heard the first reading of an ordinance requiring building and repair services to register with the county during a state of emergency.

.. Heard the first reading of an ordinance prohibiting the overcharging for goods, materials, services, and housing during a state of emergency.

.. Heard the first reading of an ordinance authorizing the suspension of portions of the code of ordinances and other formalities during a state of emergency.

The next regular meeting of the commissioners will be held Thursday, July 10, at 6 p.m. at the courthouse.

Return to top