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BOC raises millage rate

McDONOUGH — Henry County commissioners have increased taxes to homeowners, from 11.75 mills to 14.5 mills.

The measure supports a county budget of $116,967,534.

Without an upward millage rate adjustment, revenues would have topped out at just $104,372,461, an amount drastically insufficient to provide current government services, according to County Manager Fred Auletta.

“It will help us to operate the county in all the different facets that we have,” said Mike Bush, Henry County Finance Director.

When asked, on Wednesday, how much of an adjustment would be realized by residents with homes worth $100,000 in 2012, Auletta reiterated his claim that it will vary, depending on how much the value of a given home decreased in this year’s tax digest, compared with last year.

“It depends on a bunch of things,” said Auletta. “Are they paying school taxes? Are they exempt from school taxes because of their age? How much did their house decrease in value on the digest?”

Auletta said other factors in local property taxes include a decrease in millage from the Henry County Board of Education, and one mill of taxes going away due to Piedmont Henry Hospital’s recent affiliation with Piedmont Healthcare.

“This year, one of the issues that we have with the budget that was approved, is a $10 million shortage, and trying to determine where that’s going to be made up,” Auletta said, during a recent public hearing last month. “We’re looking at having to do something with millage or fund balance,” he added.

Commissioners, in recent weeks, had expressed reluctance to adjust the millage rate, and continued to do so Wednesday.

District I Commissioner Warren Holder then called on his fellow board members to make their decisions “based on what’s right,” instead of politics.

District IV Commissioner Reid Bowman initially balked at a millage-rate adjustment, but relented, and asked the other commissioners to do the same, to avoid damaging the county’s qualified local government status, by missing a required deadline.

“We’re going to have to put our big-boy pants on, and do what’s right,” said Bowman.

The board voted 4 to 1, to adopt the millage adjustment, with District II Commissioner Brian Preston dissenting. Preston said he presented a different set of budget provisions in May, which could have prevented a millage adjustment.

“I still stand by that,” said Preston.

Once the decision was made, the following statement was issued through press spokesperson, Julie Hoover-Ernst:

“To ensure that Henry County has sufficient funds to operate at current levels, while eliminating furlough days for county employees who have also not had a raise in five years, Henry County commissioners on Wednesday adopted a budget of $116,967,534 and a county millage rate of 14.5 mils. Most homeowners, however, are still likely to pay less for the county portion of their property taxes because of the declines in their property values.

“[...There has been] three straight years of losses to the tax digest, totaling more than $6 billion ... more than $20 million has been cut from the budget, and 316 positions eliminated since FY 2008-09.

“But even as Henry County home values have toppled, from a high in 2008 of $181,000 down to $107,000 in 2012, Henry County has grown by more than 20,000 people during that same time period.”

Said Auletta, “That makes balancing the FY 2012-2013 budget extremely difficult, because while revenues have gone down, the cost to deliver the level of services that citizens desire and have come to expect has not changed.”

“Throughout the last five years, Henry County government has been very effective at doing more with less,” explained Auletta. “Yet we have reached a point where we can no longer find significant cuts and continue to provide the same level of service for citizens. With that being the case, I applaud the commissioners for looking toward the future and making the tough decision to do what is right and necessary to ensure that Henry County can provide for its citizens.”