With Commissioner Jason Nelms opposed, the Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 to raise the millage rate from 8.29 to 9.13 mills for fiscal year 2012.
The new millage rate is broken down as follows: the rate for the general fund increases to 5.36 mills; the fire rate is set at 3.129; and the parks bond rate is 0.641 mills.
A home valued at $170,000, whose owner took only the standard $5,000 exemption, paid about $539 in county taxes last year. That will increase by about $20.
The Cherokee County Board of Commissioners heard from six people during its public hearing held before the vote Tuesday night. Carolyn Cosby of Ball Ground, a member of the Cherokee County TEA Party Patriots, said the county needed to consider as many spending cuts as possible instead of raising its millage rate.
Cosby, on behalf of the county TEA Party, presented county Chairman Buzz Ahrens with a letter, requesting the commissioners appoint a committee to evaluate options and recommend ways to reduce the size of the county government.
“You need a group like us who will go to war with the state and federal government,” she said of the TEA Party’s plans to take on unfunded mandates handed down at both upper levels of government.
Woodstock resident Craig McNabb, however, said it had been an honor to live in Cherokee County and said he’s in favor of the county increasing its millage rate.
“Let’s do it,” he said, adding the county is already operating on a “shoe-string” budget.
The county originally had a $5 million shortfall in the general fund, but County Manager Jerry Cooper and city staff were able to reduce that shortfall to $2.5 million by making budget adjustments.
Ahrens said the county has added roughly 20,000 people since 2007 and the government has consistently cut its staff despite being hit with a growing population.
Public safety departments, he said, have a “huge burden” to protect and serve more people while facing cutbacks at the county level.
“There’s really been a very strong effort to control and minimize expenses,” he said.
Despite recommendations from county staff, Nelms said he could not “go back on my word” and support a millage rate increase.
“I don’t feel that putting that back on the taxpayers is the right thing to do,” he said of the shortfall.
Commissioner Harry Johnston said the board’s refusalto roll up the millage rate in 2009 was “really what has dug the hole we are in.”
Johnston added it would not be appropriate for the county to refuse to raise the millage rate, but offered no revenue solutions to compensate for the shortfall.
Initially, Commissioner Jim Hubbard was set to vote against raising the millage rate and expressed his reasoning during the county’s work session earlier on Tuesday.
Hubbard initially said he “couldn’t look the people in the eye” and explain why he supported a millage rate increase.
Commissioner Karen Bosch, who noted both she and Hubbard are up for re-election in 2012, said it was unfair for Hubbard to not support an increase ahead of the 2012 election cycle.
Bosch then told the commissioners she would not vote in favor of the increase if she were the only commissioner up for re-election supporting the plan.
Hubbard apparently had a change of heart after that and said he would support an increase.
“Our people are working hard here …we need to stick with them,” he said.