DOUGLASVILLE, Ga. – Fireworks flew between Douglas County elected officials on Aug. 2 and 3 as they approved tax increases by split votes.
With a $100 annual tax rate increase, the Douglas County owner of a $150,000 home can expect to pay $30 more in annual property taxes to the county and around $70 more to the school system. The total would be $369 for the county and $1,229 for the school board for a combined total of $1,598.
Adding in taxes for those who live in Douglasville, that would be another $304 that would be due by the end of the year for those living in a $150,000 home. Douglasville City Council members held a public hearing and then voted on Aug. 4 to keep their tax rate the same.
Douglas County Board of Education Vice Chairman Larry Barnes was the only one to oppose the tax increase. “If people lose their homes, they won’t be able to pay any tax.”
Voting in favor were Board Chairman James Bartlett, Jeff Morris and Dr. Sam Haskell. Out of town was board member Michael J. Miller. Bartlett defended his vote by saying, “I’m not going to cut any more teachers.”
Douglas County Commission Chairman Tom Worthan was challenged by three of the four commissioners, Kelly Robinson, David Latham and Freddie Ashmon. However, Robinson and Commissioner Mike Mulcare sided with Worthan in supporting a 9.9 millage rate, a 2 mill increase from last year. A 1 mill rate equals $1 on a value of $1,000.
Latham not only criticized the tax increase of the county commission but also of the school board. “Deeply saddened” by their vote, Latham said, “Their SPLOST (special purpose local-option sales tax) money didn’t come in on a couple of their projects, so they went to the taxpayers.” Ashmon joined Latham in opposing the county increase.
Worthan said all four of the commissioners agreed to the tax rate increase during their December 2009 budget retreat at Callaway Gardens. As the decreasing tax digest figures worsened to an estimated 19 percent in residential values, Robinson said adjustments should have been made. “Sure we can do more cuts.”
In response, Worthan said, “We provide quality services at the most economical cost in the metro area.”
While few attended the three school board public hearings that were held during two weeks in late July and early August, around 40 to 50 attended each of the county commission’s three public hearings. Four of those six hearings were held during weekday morning hours. Those who did speak were passionate and pleading in their opposition to increased taxes.
In spite of the rate increase, the $200 million school budget for 2010-11 will fall short by $12.3 million. That shortage will be covered by the school system’s reserve fund, reducing it from $40.4 million to $28.1 million by June 30, 2011, said Kay Turner, the school district’s chief financial officer. Jennifer Hallman, the county’s finance director, said the county has $8.8 million in reserves to go along with its $79 million budget.