According to Steve Bates, the county's financial advisor, the county could be looking at a situation that could force them to borrow money to operate before the 2015-16 budget year ends if a property tax increase is not approved.
At an all-committees meeting of the county commission last week, Bates told commissioners that if the 16-cent increase (from $1.62 to $1.78 per $100 of assessed value) recommended by the county budget committee on June 30 is not passed county government could face some hard decisions before the end of the budget year.
"If we don't increase the revenue this year, more than likely you're going to start having to borrow money in order to just meet payroll," Bates said. "That is not a position that DeKalb County has ever been in, and it is not one the county wants to be in."
Fourth District Commissioner and Budget Committee Chairman Wayne Cantrell said he felt that the increase was inevitable.
"I figured this thing up on a $100,000 house, which is the average home in DeKalb County," Cantrell said. "It will raise it three dollars per month if we pass this sixteen cents. This will be enough to get us through all our terms on here and probably even further. People are going to rag you about raising taxes, sure. But they're going to rag you a lot more if you go back in the community and tell them we've had to borrow money to run the county on. If we don't pass the sixteen cents, and do eight or nine or ten cents instead, we'll be right back up here next year doing it again. Nobody wants to be nickeled and dimed to death on this tax rate. So we're going to have to do something. Either that or we're going to look like idiots borrowing money to run the county government on."
Bates said many factors led to the need for the increase.
"This budget is approximately a $41 million budget," he shared. "For the last couple of years the county has been going into cash in the general fund. One of the biggest factors was loss of interest income. There was a time when the county trustees were earning three percent on the county's money. Now they're earning four tenths of one percent. That is just like having a tax cut. Then when the financial crisis happened assessed values went down in the county, which is also like having a tax cut. With the Affordable Health Care Act coming on, it was just time to do something, and this was the year it had to happen. There is not really anything in this budget document that stands out any differently than it was last year. Last year the county approved a budget going into cash by almost $800,000. The books aren't closed yet, but we do feel like we probably went into cash. We're pretty confident that we went into cash by at least $250,000."
The proposed 16-cent increase would place 94 cents of the $1.78 collected in the County General Fund, a 12-cent increase, 57 cents in General Purpose Schools, an increase of two cents, twelve cents would go toward debt service, the county highway department would get 4 cents, an increase of of one cent, and 11 cents would go into capital projects, also a one-cent increase.
A public notice will be published today in the Review, and a public hearing is set for July 27 at 5:30 p.m. at the courthouse. The regular monthly meeting of the commission will follow, and the budget will go up for a vote.