Columbia County Commission approves budget with tax cut

Columbia County commissioners approved a $56 million budget Tuesday that includes a cut in property taxes.

The general fund budget is adjusted to include a half-mill rollback in the county millage rate, which collectively saves property owners about $2 million.

The half-mill cut would be the portion of the 9.137 millage earmarked for paying off debt.

County Finance Services Director Leanne Reece recently told commissioners that four construction projects funded with a 2007 bond all came in under budget, creating an excess officials can use for debt reduction.

Coupled with a nearly 4 percent boost in sales tax revenues, Reece said the excess bond funds can cover next year’s debt payments.

Commissioners have voted to cut the mill rate in four of the past five years. Including last year’s rollback, the county government’s millage rate will be about three-quarters less than in 2010.

One mill represents about $4 million in property taxes.

The 2012-13 fiscal year budget is a 1.56 percent increase over this year, but officials have said they can make up the added spending with an expected 2 percent growth in the tax digest.

Commissioners also approved Tuesday additional funding for a playground for children with disabilities.

Site clearing for the playground in a wooded area near two existing playgrounds behind the Columbia County Library in Evans already is under way.

A resident of the neighboring Northwood subdivision complained that the playground infringes too far into a wooded buffer zone between his property and the library grounds, noting that the edge of the playground comes within 15 feet of his backyard fence.

Though a proponent of the playground, David Sweet asked commissioners to consider moving it to the Evans Towne Center Park.

Commission Chairman Ron Cross told Sweet that the playground is best-suited at its current location because it offers convenient parking. Cross said officials can work with the neighborhood to offer it more privacy.

Construction and Main­tenance Services Director Matt Schlachter said he likely can rework the playground’s layout to keep it farther away from Sweet’s home.

With Tuesday’s approval, officials now have $80,000 in sales tax money to buy and install specialized playground equipment and rubber mulch padding.

The playground will be accessible to children in wheelchairs and include a roller slide and full-harness swing.

Staff writer Valerie Rowell contributed to this story.

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