The Fayette County Commission got an earful last week from residents who opposed the property tax increases the board enacted on a 3-2 vote.
Several speakers urged the commission to reconsider using a new power granted by the legislature to shift funds from the county’s 2003 transportation sales tax to help avoid the tax increases entirely.
Peachtree City resident Nancy Giertych said she felt the new E-911 tax amounted to her being triple-taxed for the same service because she also would pay for the service through her city and county taxes on top of the new property tax that goes into effect this year.
While Giertych said she understood the tax was asked for by Fayette’s municipalities, she felt the commission should have represented her as a taxpayer and rebuffed the request.
Giertych also said the commission should cancel construction of the West Fayetteville Bypass and use those funds to reduce property taxes.
“Fayette County is better than this,” Giertych said. “Y’all can do better than that. And I’d appreciate it if you all would represent me, the taxpayer!”
County resident Steve Smithfield noted that the county can avoid adopting stormwater fees later in the year since Georgia law allows county transportation sales tax funds to be used for culvert repairs.
Resident Tom Waller said he was not surprised about the millage rate increase since the county departments were not required to provide budgets with cuts.
Resident David Barlow told the commission the tax increases will have a detrimental effect on small business owners.
“It gives them a black eye by raising their taxes while they’re struggling to keep their business alive,” Barlow said.
Dissatisfied with the commission, Barlow said he is looking forward to voting in the commission elections in 2012 and he suggested the result would be “an extreme makeover of the board of commissioners.”
County resident Ginga Smithfield pointed to the commission funding “close to $90,000” to pave a gravel road with only two homes on it.
“An $8.5 million roundabout in Fayetteville is not a necessity. County pay raises at the end of 2010 were not a necessity,” Smithfield said.
Smithfield also mentioned that hundreds of homes are going into foreclosure in the county, a sign of severe economic distress.
Despite the citizens’ comments opposed to the tax increases, they were adopted 3-2, with Commissioners Herb Frady, Lee Hearn and Robert Horgan in favor, and Commissioners Steve Brown and Allen McCarty voting against.
Responding to some of the citizens’ concerns, Commissioner Horgan noted that the commission has avoided any tax increase for the past five years. Not adopting the increase now would be akin to “putting our heads in the sand and not looking into the future,” Horgan added.
Horgan mentioned that in the past four years, county staff has been reduced by some 40 people, and the county had remaining employees take on those additional duties.
Horgan also said that public safety makes up some 60 percent of the county’s general fund, and accounted for about 75 percent of the county’s vehicle purchases for the general fund.
Commissioner McCarty said his taxes and those for his mother-in-law have gone up every year, and he doesn’t think county residents can afford to pay more taxes now.
“At some point in time we may need to do something like that, but now is not the time to do that,” McCarty said.
Commissioner Hearn said the county has seen the same significant cost increases that citizens have, including higher gasoline and health insurance prices. He added that the commission went through each line item in the budget and he felt that process accounted for each dollar being spent by the county.
“I’m not happy with the millage rate going up because it means my taxes will go up as well, but I think it’s the right thing to do and is prudent for us to provide services for the county,” Hearn said.
Commissioner Brown noted that nearly 88 percent of Fayette residents “have lost significant value in their homes.” And he agreed with Barlow’s assertion that the tax increases will hurt Fayette businesses “who are trying to hold back on laying off employees or just trying to keep their doors open.”
Brown indicated that taxpayers should be angry at the commission, in part because a lawn mowing contract was not rebid and was instead awarded to the company which had it the previous year. County staff previously noted that the new price was the same as approved for the low bidder the previous year.
The millage rate increases included a .245 general fund mill increase on all parcels in the county along with a new .207 mill tax that is being levied to fund the county’s Emergency 911 Center instead of using payments from the general funds of the cities and the county.
A third tax increase also was approved which raises the millage for county fire tax by just over a half mill to stave off a funding shortfall or drastic cutbacks in the ranks of the fire service. The fire tax will only affect residents who live in the unincorporated county, Tyrone, Brooks and Woolsey, as Fayetteville and Peachtree City residents have their own fire service and thus do not pay the tax.
The tax is being offset slightly by a reduction in the millage rate for EMS service, which will drop almost a full tenth of a mill. That will not affect Peachtree City residents, who use the city’s EMS service, but it will help residents across the remainder of the county.