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Meetings

PUBLIC HEARING
6:00 PM, JULY 21, 2011

Vice-Chairman A. James Nance called the public hearing to order at 6:00 p.m. with Commissioners James D. Harris, William Culpepper, and Clark Henderson in attendance. Others present were County Administrator Lester E. Crapse, Jr., Finance Director Sherrie Leverett, and Secretary Linda Finch.

Vice-Chairman Nance opened the public hearing and asked if anyone would like to speak regarding the proposed millage increase in property taxes for 2011. Ann Barefoot thanked the board for all they do serving the citizens of the county, and stated that she noticed that there has not been a millage increase in the last several years, but she would respectfully request that the board review their expenses before they make any further increases. Joe Joiner stated that they would like for the board to do everything they could to hold expenses and not increase at this time. Vice-Chair Nance thanked them for their comments and advised that this is the second public hearing today as we held one at 10:00 this morning. Administrator Crapse reported that there has not been a millage increase since 2001; the increase in the millage rate of one mill this year brings it up to 11.749 mills, and that is still lower than the mill rate was in 2003. Taxes are always a roller coaster ride as in 2002 the millage rate was 14.240 and that reflected a cut in taxes by 1.45%, in 2003 the millage rate went down again 3.14%, in 2004 it went down .22%, 2005 the rate remained the same but taxes went up 2.69%, in 2006 the millage rate remained the same and taxes went up 5.20%, in 2007 taxes went up 6.84%, in 2008 they went up 3.58%, 2009 they went down .92%, and in 2010 they went down 1.95%. Now this year represents an 8.04% increase, but consistency the millage rate has remained pretty low. In 2006 the millage rate was 11.050, in 2007 it was 10.479 and remained there for the next three years, and in 2011 the millage rate is proposed to go up one mill. He advised that there was a lot of discussion this morning about county employees and saving money. What we were faced with this year was a $2 million reduction in revenues, reasons include the digest values are going down because of the value of home ownership, a cut in insurance premiums tax, and a drop in the Local Option Sales Tax, which makes up 16% of our revenue. He advised that we have 194 regular county employees which include himself to the lowest paid person in the county, and when you average all those hourly rates it comes exactly to $16.00 hour. The budget does include a 1% cost of living increase for county employees and also includes four unpaid holidays or furlough days, so the employees will have a net loss in pay no matter what their salary is, plus we have reduced the budget $703,000 over last year. The situation of revenues is really the issue this year, it is not increased spending, and to keep from raising taxes in the past, in 2009 we used about $900,000 in reserves, in 2010 we used about $675,000, and in 2011 we haven't gotten the final figures yet but we think it will be another $900,000, and in 2012 we have budgeted about $328,000 in reserves. That is what the board has done to keep from increasing taxes already as we need to have about $4.8 million in reserves, which is four months operating revenues at $1.2 million a month. He stated that when we get to that limit because of the way the tax cycle works at the end of October, which is end of the tax collection year, we will have about six weeks of operating revenue. That is simply not enough operating revenue to have in reserves as if we would have a tornado like they did in Americus a few years ago, we would burn through that money in a few days, so that is why we talk about the rainy day reserves. We also cannot take funds from any of the other accounts that the county has to spend on operation and maintenance purposes; they are all dedicated by statue to pay for a certain service or other fund. He advised that with the Special Local Option Tax, collections have dropped so much that we are predicting that we are going to have at least a $120,000 shortfall in the $20 million we projected six years ago. He stated that we have a lot invested in the Inland Port, and we believe that is going to bring many jobs to this county, and if people have jobs they can buy things, pay taxes, and do those kind of things. We are not gambling people's money on that but we really do think that it is going to be the beginning of the end of the down period for Crisp County and our surrounding counties. He advised that we used to be the number one draw county of outside people spending money in our county, we have dropped to number ten, and as gas prices go up people will pay more to buy at the local store in their own town than drive to Crisp County to Wal-Mart, etc., so we are not getting the draw that we used to and hopefully if the economy improves we may get that draw number back up. Also the state has given 124 tax exemptions to special interest groups, and that is a combination of a of things that have caused this to happen. Mr. Joiner asked if he heard right that the overall budget was going down, we have lost money with the 1% LOST, and the property digest has dropped, and that is why you are trying to make up these losses. Administrator Crapse replied yes to all of these, and also stated that the state legislature has passed a law where foreclosure sales are now included in the formula of arms length sales and are now on the digest at that selling price; the board spent a very agitated two months going over these figures and agonizing over every dollar. Mrs. Barefoot asked if they thought the LOST and SPLOST revenues were going to continue to decline and have they chartered that to know exactly how much, and the Administrator replied yes they do that every month and it was 5% down from last year. Mrs. Leverett advised that they have the same amount budgeted for LOST this year that was in there last year at $1.7 million, and we are hoping those numbers will go up, but we can't bank on that. Administrator Crapse stated that for many years we could anticipate a 5% increase every year and for many many years it kept coming, but that has not been the case since 2009. Mrs. Barefoot asked why some departments got increases in their budgets, like courts. Mrs. Leverett stated that the District Attorney's budget was increased as the DA has secured some stimulus money, that is basically a wash because she has the revenue to match it, but it does increase her on the expenditure side. Mrs. Barefoot asked if the Constitutional Officers budgets were cut like the departmental budgets and do they anticipate every employee of the county to be furloughed. The Administrator replied yes they were cut, there are four unpaid holidays/furlough days in the budget, and the furlough days do include everybody. Administrator Crapse advised that the county is only buying one vehicle this year out of the general fund and that is to replace a ten-year old vehicle, plus there are some exceptions where the budget went up but mostly the department budgets went down. This is nothing that the board has taken lightly, and this was the best plan that we could come up with. Mrs. Barefoot stated that she wanted to ask and make sure the Commissioners had reviewed expenditures to the level they could, and she was not completely aware of the LOST declining. Mr. Joiner stated that he definitely doesn't want to pay higher taxes but he understands now why they have to do it. Administrator Crapse advised that is the purpose of this meeting, to provide information you are not aware of, to explain where we are coming from, to tell you what we have done to keep expenses in check and find other sources of revenue. We have a new tenant in this building paying rent and possible another tenant that will be paying rent if they decide to come in, we raised the rent on county buildings last year, and we are constantly looking for a revenue stream, but as a matter of business we don't use services, like business license and occupational tax, as a revenue enhancer; we set those prices to cover the extent of the service because the more you pile on those small businesses, the harder it is on them. Mr. Nance added that another way they we receive money is from out of town businesses that have to pay a fee to do business in the county. Administrator Crapse stated that they hope people will understand that the only mechanism that we have is to try to spread it over the largest possible population so that it is not that hard on any one segment. He stated that the final public hearing will be held on July 28th at 1:30 p.m. with a called meeting at 2:00 p.m. to adopt the millage rate increase. Mrs. Joiner asked if banks pay property taxes on foreclosed properties that they hold, and the Administrator replied yes if they have the title. She asked if the Southeast Empowerment Zone was exempt, and if the state was the one that decided to add foreclosure homes in the property tax values, and the Administrator replied yes to both.. Administrator Crapse stated that he thinks the key to things turning around are the Inland Port as one building has already been purchased in anticipation of the port coming in; Big Tex Trailers has been here a couple of years as a distribution center and selling parts and trailers and they have started assembling their manufacturing equipment and they will be hiring initially about 50 people when they open up their manufacturing line; Owens Corning had invested about $12 million in a building a few years ago and quit because they are in the business of home insulation, but just last month they reaffirmed that they still intend to finish out that plant when home sales turn around, that may be longer than we hope as there are three years worth of housing on the market now; also there is a bio-fuels place that bought property here and we are hoping they are going to pick up some employees. If we get that ball rolling it will help a lot, but we can't count on that and program revenues on what might happen. Wesley Mathis asked if Owens Corning, since they were in the Industrial Park, paid any taxes, and Administrator Crapse stated that they have a tax abatement as an enticement to bring jobs into this community and also to help them get started with their high capital expenses without having too much outlay. Mrs. Barefoot asked it the county has cut money they give to other entities, and the Administrator replied yes we have and one of the most difficult cut we had to do this year was the Health Department. He stated that we do have to support our community and recognize that those people work hard for our citizens everyday, so we try to support those things in the best way we can. He stated that anybody can look at this budget and find something they think could be cut out, but when you look at the overall picture those people come in and justify those expenditures based on what they provide to our community and citizens. Mr. Henderson gave an example of cost cutting, and stated that it is hot in here now because the unit is turned up at 5:00 p.m. every day. There were no further questions or comments, and Vice-Chairman Nance closed the public hearing at 7:13 p.m.

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