Columbia County to lower taxes

$1.2 million cut from digest; raises in works

Columbia County commissioners took another step Tuesday to slash a quarter mill from property taxes.


The gesture to lower taxes by .25 mill officially was adopted by the full commission during a meeting Tuesday.

By lowering the millage to 9.387, the county will save residents with a $200,000 home $19.50 on their property taxes this year.

The more-than-$1.2 million cut in tax revenues won't become official until after a July 27 hearing at 9 a.m. in the auditorium of the Evans Government Center to set the millage.

Tuesday's vote essentially approved the commission's intent to cut property taxes at that hearing.

Officials said higher than anticipated growth in the tax digest and a substantial reserve fund made the quarter mill cut possible.

When commissioners approved the general fund budget of about $54.1 million last month, they expected flat growth in 1-percent sales tax revenue. Instead, revenues grew by 0.3 percent and gave a surprise boost to the tax digest.

At more than $1.3 million, the 12-month average for sales tax collections is the highest it has ever been. Five percent of those collections supply a portion of the county's general fund.

Also last month, commissioners adopted a measure to pay off debt or return to taxpayers any money that exceeds the county's reserve fund cap of about $27.5 million.

Should the commission maintain the current millage, tax revenues likely would overwhelm the cap.

Commissioners also agreed to include more than $350,000 in this year's budget for employee merit raises.

The added funding will allow those employed with the county for more than a year to receive a raise of up to 2 percent. Employee performance reviews, which determine the size of the raise, start in October, but the raises won't go into effect until January.

The only one to oppose the raises was Commissioner Charles Allen.

"I just don't feel good about (it)," Allen said, considering that the county's unemployment rate still is higher than normal and area teachers are losing money because of furlough days and slashed state funding.

Commissioner Ron Thigpen noted that though the nation remains in an economic recession, the county government has weathered it well by reducing the work force and asking remaining employees to work harder.

Commission Chairman Ron Cross agreed, saying the commission needs "to recognize them in some way" for their efforts.