Millage rate change to help fund raises
by Michelle Babcock
July 26, 2014 01:23 AM | 2181 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
CANTON — The Cherokee County Board of Commissioners on Thursday night approved a county millage rate of 9.908 mills, with raises averaging 10 percent in mind for public safety workers.

Last year’s millage rate was 9.947, county records show.

Commissioners must still set the budget in October for the raises to be finalized, but they voted 4-1 Thursday to approve a millage rate that takes into account plans to give raises of 10 percent for public safety employees and 2 percent cost of living adjustments for all county employees.

The commissioners approved the slightly rolled back millage rate, with Commission Chairman Buzz Ahrens opposed, and agreed to use $2 million in reserves, pension credit and land sales to help fund next year’s budget.

Ahrens said he’s in support of the needs discussed, but he did not support the motion.

“I think we’re biting off too much at one time, and I am concerned about the amount of reserves,” Ahrens said.

Chief Financial Officer Janelle Funk said the reason the commissioners were considering a salary adjustment for public safety officials was to help retain employees.

“We’ve experienced significant turnover in our public safety departments,” Funk said.

The commissioners approved a millage rate above the revenue neutral rollback number of 9.305 mills, Funk said, and if $2 million were used from the reserves, pension credit and land sales, homeowners shouldn’t expect a big change in their tax bill.

For homeowners who saw an average increase in the value of their home of about 6.65 percent, based on tax digest estimates after appeals, they can expect to pay about 6.35 percent more in property tax.

If a house worth $182,000 did not see a rise in property value, the homeowner would see a decrease of $2.49, or four-tenths of a percent, documents show.

However, if the Board of Commissioners rolled the number back to the revenue neutral rate of 9.305 mills, the average homeowner could have seen a decrease in taxes of about $44.

Commissioner Jason Nelms made the motion to adopt the slightly rolled back millage rate, and use one-time reserves to lower resident’s tax bills, which was seconded by Commissioner Brian Poole.

Nelms said “when anybody in this county calls 911, you want them to come now.”

He said training for public safety takes time, and when the county loses someone in public safety, “It’s hard to go find that same person off the street and replace them, because there’s so much training involved.”

“That’s where the savings or cost come into play,” Nelms said.

Commissioner Raymond Gunnin said he supported the raise for public safety, adding “They all deserve more than what they make right now, for putting their lives on the line.”

Gunnin said many nearby counties plan to hire public safety in the upcoming years, and Cherokee would risk losing employees without the raise.

Commis-sioner Harry Johnston said he has repeatedly expressed his desire to keep tax rates as low as possible, and said he was prepared to support a lower tax rate, but decided to go with the plan for several reasons.

“Nobody is more proud of our public safety,” Johnston said. “They certainly deserve anything we can pay them.”

Johnston said he supported the millage rate of 9.908 for public safety raises because “it does not increase tax rates, and in fact reduces it slightly.”

Johnston added that “virtually every year” for the past 14 years, the millage rate has been fully rolled back to a revenue neutral number, with a handful of exceptions.

“Our tax rates are absolutely rock bottom,” he said.

Poole said he supported the raises for public safety because they deserved it, and “it’s not frivolous money going anywhere else but public safety.”

Four people spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting.

Three people said they didn’t want to see a rise in taxes, and one said public safety should see a raise closer to 15 percent.

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