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Meetings

PUBLIC HEARING
JULY 28, 2011

Chairman Wallace Mathis called the public hearing to order at l:38 p.m. with Commissioners A. James Nance, and Clark Henderson in attendance. Others present were County Administrator Lester E. Crapse, Jr. and Secretary Linda Finch.

Chairman Mathis stated that we are here today to discuss the proposed tax millage increase. Administrator Crapse reported that as just a matter of information that came out in the previous public hearings in regards to the discussion of county employees and their 1% COLA. When you figure the 1% COLA plus the increase in health insurance and the furlough days, all of our employees, including from him to the minimum wage employees, will all lose net pay. He stated that this is a public hearing for the millage rate, the public hearing for the budget was held last month, and the budget was on display for a couple of months at the finance department. Another issue that came up was the post qualified officers at the courthouse, and he read the Georgia law that was enacted in 2008, which requires Georgia Sheriff's to create a written security plan of courthouses that has to be approved by the Senior Superior Court Judge. He stated that the millage rate in the county has not gone up since 2001, it is still lower than the millage rate set in 2003, plus we are still significantly below most of our neighbors with the one mill increase from 10.749 to 11.749. Joyce Pheil asked if all the Commissioners, at some point, attended a hearing on this millage rate, and if they didn't attend, would they be able to vote on the millage rate. Administrator Crapse advised that they have all attended at least one of the hearings. John Perry asked how could they have a hearing without a quorum of the commissioners, and Administrator Crapse advised that there are no decisions made in public hearings so there is not a requirement to have a quorum; we will have to have a quorum before the called meeting today to adopt the millage rate. Robert Powell asked shouldn't they wait until a quorum got here if there is a possibility that they may change what they have already set out, and isn't this a public hearing for you to maybe change a decision. Chairman Mathis advised that we are basically giving you the information so you know what our problems are. Mr. Powell stated that they have not had representation by all five commissioners at a public hearing that affects everybody in this county tax-wise. Chairman Mathis advised that all commissioners have all the information and have been going over this for a couple of months. Chairman Mathis advised that Commissioner Nance had arrived, we have a quorum, and he opened the public hearing and asked for any comments. He stated that if they could limit the comments to three minutes so we could give as many people as would like time to speak. Mr. Perry stated that he thinks everyone in this room is opposed to the decision. He stated that the Board of Education met this morning, and he had read on the Internet that even though their net M & O Digest decreased by $6,554,727, which resulted in a net tax decrease of $106,244, the budget had been prepared based on this expected decrease. The bottom line is the Board of Education recommended the same millage rate, and he is not sure why in these austere times the county can't do the same. Mr. Powell stated that the one thing he understands from each of them is the reason that we are having this millage increase is because of a lack of revenue that the county receives; the increase is going to generate about 3.5% or around $500,000. He asked why you can raise my taxes when you have $843,647 of uncollected property taxes for year 2010, and until 2010 we had $1,408,158 of uncollected taxes, total of $2,251,800. Why does the tax collector not collect these taxes when you want to tax me to let me subsidize all of these property owners who do not pay property taxes. He has friends that have not paid taxes for a number of years, and nothing has been done to them. The Administrator advised that there have been 1,423 fifas so far this year on property tax that has not been paid, that is our alternative for collecting taxes. We will collect close to 99.5% before it is all said and done but it probably will not all be collected for about five years from now, that is nothing new. Mr. Powell said the point is December 20th of every year the taxes are due and payable, you have that right and you don't do it. Tax Commissioner Cricket Adkins reported that every year we have this problem of collecting taxes, we are in a depressed economic situation, and she works with people to pay their taxes, but if they do not pay in two years, she puts it for sale. Every year they fifa property to get it ready, do record searches, and when it goes to sale it is only sold if someone buys it; they have had three sales this year and sold only five properties. She stated that one reason there are so many dollars on the books is that she has mortgage companies who are foreclosing weekly, and when they foreclose she will get the taxes, plus she works with the property owners if they can pay a little at a time, if that need be, but if they do not comply with what they agree on, then the next tax deed sale their property is on it. Jerry Carney asked if we are reassessing all the properties now, and Administrator Crapse advised that there is a reevaluation underway, that is the Tax Assessor's Board's responsibility, but it can't go into effect until the moratorium on tax increases is lifted. Mr. Carney stated that is one more way of transferring our tax money to someone who is not paying their taxes. Mrs. Adkins stated that if you do appraisals, you have to compare sales, which assesses the property at that time. Susan Stripling stated that she can't understand why you stop reevaluating property because you can't increase someone's taxes. Administrator Crapse advised that a reevaluation is currently underway; reevaluation was set to take place over two fiscal years and be paid for over three fiscal years. Mr. Powell stated that the only way a property can change right now is if the sale goes down; if the sale is higher, the value cannot go up according to Georgia law, and foreclosure sales are considered now in evaluations. Mr. Perry asked how the state moratorium affects the taxes that are being raised by this millage rate. Administrator Crapse advised that the digest has reduced over the past three years over $20 million dollars and that affects the taxes as when the digest goes down, you don't bring in the same amount of money for the same millage. Mr. Perry asked if it was applied across the county as opposed to an individual layout on property owners, and the Administrator stated that you have to apply it equally across the county. Mr. Perry asked if the dollars created by the mill rate times the assessment are lower across the county than they were last year, and the Administrator replied yes and if a house sells, foreclosure or not, it goes on the digest at the sales price for at least the first year or until it sales again or is re valued. Robert Pless asked who determines the time frame of two years that Mrs. Adkins gives people to pay their taxes, and Mrs. Adkins stated that she does because if she foreclosed on everyone who had past due taxes, then the market in our area would be so flooded that the value of your property would plummet, plus she just couldn't keep up. She sets up payment plans for individuals that have medical problems, and if they didn't follow through with the plan, she would immediately foreclose. Mr. Pless asked have we taken into consideration the revenue from the payment plans, and she replied no. Mr. Pless thinks that as a citizen they need to look at that. Administrator Crapse stated that the penalty and interest is set by the state, and for some landowners they can pay the penalty and interest because it is cheaper money than they can buy on the outside, and they delay paying the taxes for as long as they can and then they pay it. Mr. Pless stated that he is here to learn, but he thinks he may be at the wrong meeting because we all know what the bottom line is, whether you are talking millage or assessment, is what you pay and the biggest variable is going to be the county budget. He asked when the county makes the budget is there ever been or plan to be any external factor that looks at that with recommendations. Administrator Crapse stated that if he is talking about an independent audit outside the county, no, but himself, the finance director, the department heads, and the commissioners do it. Mr. Pless stated that if we keep doing it the same way we are doing it, he thinks if there is any consideration given, we need to have that in the planning stage for the future of the county to have some kind of review. Mr. Henderson stated that he doesn't want them to get the impression that all the delinquent taxpayers are homeowners, several industries have come to our town, opened a business, and then didn't pay their property taxes, plus when they file bankruptcy, we can't get the money. He stated that the values are set by the Board of Assessors and the assessments are suppose to stay between 38% to 40% of the property values, and we are at 32%, so there were some properties in this county that were under assessed; that falls back on the Board of Assessors. All the commissioners can do is make a budget, and a budget is nothing but a guide and not an easy decision. Next year if we are still going down, we are going to have to cut services, as we can't keep coming to you and saying we need more money; we are trying to keep this boat level until we can make budget adjustments throughout the year. Mr. Pless thanked the commissioners, sympathized for what they are doing, but he is trying to learn, and he did not imply that anybody was not doing their job. Administrator Crapse said that he could give a few examples, which included Golden's Foundry, Horizon Travel Plaza, Winn Dixie, Perimeter Plaza, Floyd Brothers, Southeastern Forestry, Folsom Construction, are just on the first page of taxes due, we are talking big numbers, but we will eventually get this money, except for the ones that are bankrupt. When they are sold, the fifa will get us our money. Mrs. Stripling stated that she hears that we will cut next year, she understands that, but this is a time where everybody is cutting. She asked when was the last time the county had put out their insurance for bids, and is a $500 deductible valid for a county that is struggling to subsidize something like that; a lot of people are glad to have a job. The Administrator replied that the insurance is bid out every year. Roy Johnson stated that in order to keep giving his employees health insurance, he had to raise his deductible per person, and if had to do it, the county should have to do it. Frances Carswell stated that at the first meeting, we asked that you take another look at the budget with the idea of possibly makings some cuts to reduce this millage; did that happen. Chairman Mathis stated that we have gone over this individually; we have spent a lot of time before today. She stated that you did not do it one more time like we asked you, and if she understood Mr. Powell correctly he said 3.5% reduction of everything in your budget will bring the millage down to where it is now, and she earnestly recommended that they look at reducing everything by 3.5% and ride this out for one more year. Mr. Powell asked if they had already made up their mind before today on the increase, and Chairman Mathis stated that they have gone over this budget and increase for over two months, we don't just get to the end of the fiscal year and begin to look at it, this is something we do every month. He stated that each commissioner has a different department that they are assigned to look after. Mr. Perry asked if those three were going to vote on the millage rate since he still sees two empty chairs, and are they here to fulfill the legal requirement to have a certain number of opens meetings or they really here to hear what we have to say. Administrator Crapse advised that the advertisement for these meetings had to go out three weeks ago, we had no idea that there would be this many people here, so we did it the way we have done it for the last eight years. Mrs. Stripling stated that they are wasting their time because they have already made up your mind because you have scheduled a meeting as soon as we walk out the door. Administrator Crapse stated that the commissioners have the option of tabling it; they don't have to do it if they don't want to do it. Mr. Powell stated that Mrs. Adkins does not fulfill her job like she is suppose to in collecting taxes, she feels sorry for people, commissioners have the same opinion, you feel sorry so you are going to keep everything as is. It seems to be a consensus of the elected officials in this county of that mentality; people are tired of taxes, tired of lack of service. He has a road that has potholes in it, but he hasn't come to you to fix the road, as they know things are tight; everybody in this room is willing to give up a service. He asked how many courthouses in this area have full-time deputy sheriffs, and stated that Tifton does not have that and why do we have to spend this money. You have got to tighten up, we can afford to pay the taxes, but that is not the point, the point is it is not fair to those who can't. Mr. Henderson made a motion to suspend voting on this mill increase, and stated that he hears them but we can only do so much. Mr. Sampson stated that this is the tip of the iceberg, it is not going to go away, you have to do what you have to do, and he respects them, this needs to be taken seriously. He stated that there are a lot of people in this room like he and his wife who are on a fixed income, and since he bought his house eight years ago, it has doubled in evaluation; he didn't appeal but if his property taxes go up, he and Robert are going to be on face book, twitter, internet, and ask people to appeal their valuation, and lets see how that goes. He has paid his share, but he is not going to pay everybody else's share, everybody needs to bleed the same amount. Carden Summers stated that we have 23,000 people in Crisp County, and Crisp County cannot afford a $14 million budget, and his insurance deductible is $10,000, and why would his daughter who just graduated from college want to come back here, what would bring our young people back here if they have to support and pay for everybody else to do nothing. He appreciates all the jobs in Crisp County, city, school system, hospital, and all the government jobs that keeps Crisp County alive, and if you take those four entities out of Crisp County there wouldn't be a county here, we are all on the government pockets; government in Washington is broke, government in Crisp County is broke, we got to fix it, and property values are going down across the board. If county employees have to give up a day, they still have a day, if and when the economy picks back up you can deal with the attrition factor as it begins to rise, but as long as the attrition factor is going out and the money is going out, we can't afford them. He stated that doesn't see any things that have changed since he was sitting on the board in 1990 regarding garbage, roads, etc., and you can't ask less than 1/3 of the people to pay for everybody else. Eventually what is going to happen is you are going to have somebody like himself to get up a document and get everybody to sign, which Houston County has done, and state that you can't raise taxes unless you put it out for a county-wide vote; legislature allows that. Reconsider, look at your budget, and ask each department to cut 3.5%; it is that simple. Janice Summers stated that their business took a serious dive in 2009, we cut expenses, looked for alternate sources of income, dropped prices, improved services, we did whatever we could to try to bring in business. They also went to four day work weeks, and cut out any extra's, including deductibles on their insurances, and if you run a business you know that if you don't have the money coming in, you don't spend it. They are asking that the county live within their physical means. Also, Crisp County is the only county is the state that owns our own power company, we have around 12,000 power accounts, and if you took our money that is generated from property tax dollars and divided them by the number of power accounts, everybody would pay $40 extra a month on their power account, and we would have to pay zero property taxes. She stated that would attract people to our county if we didn't have any property taxes; we can't keep doing things the same old way, we need to look at something we have to offer so that we can compete against other small communities. We have between 1/4 and l/3 of the people in this community that are shouldering all of the property taxes, and it is time that load gets shifted to everybody. Administrator Crapse reported that everybody in this county pays 25% less than Georgia Power customers for their electricity every month. Debbie Mayor, who works with the school system, stated that the school system has had furlough days for the last three years, no pay raises plus their insurance has gone up; her family has had to cut their budget, school system has had to cut down, and you can do the same thing, you have to look and want to do it; you are going to have to face these people, if not today you will have to face them when it is time for re-election. Mr. Henderson reported that the IDA gives tax abatements to businesses that want to come here, and then after their abatement is over, they will move on. Mrs. Mixon stated that commissioners need to look at the people who have businesses here and give them a break and forget the strangers. Mrs. Pheil stated that she is not in the situation a lot of them in the audience are as she and her husband live on retirment income, three years ago she could pay her bills and still buy things, but every year since then, the money that is left for her to buy what she wants has gone lower and lower, and there are a lot of people in the community like her. Veterans or the people who are on social security don't get a raise, how much more can we do. Alex Stripling advised that he moved back here about six years ago, two years after he moved back, everybody on his street got a 40% increase in valuation, and he asked if that applied to the whole county. Administrator Crapse stated that generally they revalue at one time or in certain sections like agricultural, residential, or commercial, but there are provisions in the law where if there is an unusually high growth in an area, it can be assessed separately, and that is probably what happened to him and several in this room. Mr. Stripling stated that if they had assessed the rest of the lake like they did the part of the lake he lives on, they would have collected probably another $100,000 to $200,000 taxes a year in taxes. Mr. Henderson stated that this board does not order assessments, that is the Board of Assessors responsibility, and Robert Powell knows why that river was reassessed because of the sales that were going up out there; the commissioners had nothing with what part of the river was assessed. Mr. Nance stated that what he is hearing is that people do not want a tax increase, and you want us to come back together and look at it one more time, even if there is an increase, you want us to look again and see if there is anything that can be done. Steve Williams stated that he is a business owner and he has heard from a lot of small business owners here, and there is a difference between owning a business and being a government agency; we are saying treat this as a business as if your livelihood depended on it. He stated that Mr. Henderson made a motion and parliamentary procedure policy says that since you are not in a meeting, you can't make a motion, but he would be curious when we leave if the motion that you made still will be in effect or be made again and will be acted upon, and will we know if that action will be passed. Mr. Henderson stated that they will have the opportunity to be sitting here when the chairman closes the hearing, calls the meeting to order, and that is when he will make that motion. He has learned since he has been on this board there is the difference in being in business for yourself as if you see a problem you can correct it real quick, and you don't have the state cutting funds and passing down unfunded state mandates; you are caught between federal government, state government, and we are the last one on the totem pole, but he has no problem revisiting this. Mr. Stripling stated that he would summarize what he would like to see, and he expects it is the same as the other people in the room, and that is they would like to see them turn down the mill rate today and cut the budget by 3.5%. There being no further comments, Chairman Mathis closed the public hearing at 3:02 p.m.

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