By Jason A. Smith
Property taxes are on the rise in several counties in the Atlanta area, but the same will not be true for Henry County for the coming year.
The Henry County Board of Commissioners approved a millage rate of 11.75 mills for county residents, keeping the rate the same as it was last year.
The unanimous decision came, Thursday, during a called meeting of the board. The board took the action even though it has a budget shortfall of about $15 million. The shortfall is the result of a $1.4 billion decrease to Henry County's tax digest over the last three years, according to county spokesperson, Julie Hoover-Ernst.
"Commissioners, instead, worked with county finance staff and department heads to make responsible, permanent cuts through decreases in individual departments' budgets across the board, layoffs, attrition, retirements, changes in benefits, and by eliminating vacant positions," Hoover-Ernst said.
A group of 57 employees were laid off as a result of the cost-ccutting measures.
Commission Chairman Elizabeth "B.J." Mathis said she is proud of the work done recently by county leaders to keep the millage rate intact.
"What we are trying to do is to make sure in this tough economy, that we live within our budget just like everyone else is having to live within theirs," said Mathis. "Our board worked very hard on the budget that we just adopted.
"It did include some layoffs. It did include some department cutbacks. But that was our effort to assure that we would not have to come back and ask for a millage increase in this meeting, " she said. "So, I'm very pleased, especially in light of what you see in the neighboring counties of the metro region. A number of them have raised their millage, but Henry County was able to hold the line."
Hoover-Ernst said other methods used by county officials to close the budget gap included using funds from the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax road paving account to pay for road resurfacing, allowing $5.3 million to be removed from the general fund in its Department of Transportation budget; using $2.2 million in excess funds in the county's retirement account; approving four furlough days for county employees; reducing county contributions to outside agencies by 50 percent; raising the hotel/motel tax to 8 percent; instituting new fees for police reports, and for out-of-county seniors to participate in activities at Henry County senior centers.
"As a result of these carefully considered cuts, and new revenue streams, property owners in unincorporated Henry County will pay the same in property taxes as they did last year, as will property owners in Hampton, Locust Grove, and Stockbridge," Hoover-Ernst said.
"Only residents and property owners in McDonough could pay more, as the McDonough City Council elected to increase its city millage from 3.45 in 2010, to 4.393 in 2011. However, many property owners may pay less, regardless of where they live in Henry County, due to further decreases in assessed property values."
For more information, visit www.henrytc.org. To view Henry County's fiscal year 2012 budget, visit www.henrycounty-ga.org/finance.