A public hearing Friday morning on the county’s millage rate lead to the County Commission chairman offering to refund a long-time critic’s equivalent tax funds used to support of the Center for Strategic Planning and Circles programs.
Bill Gilmore spoke during Friday morning’s hearing about the property tax millage rate, which is proposed at 11.31 mills. Gilmore noted that when commissioners last year had voted in an increase in the millage, previously 10.56, they cited the need to upgrade convenience centers and re-roof the jail. Gilmore also noted the commission’s 2011 reduction in convenience center days to reduce costs.
“What is most surprising, and disturbing, is after this drastic reduction of our essential, necessary function of our local government, and unknown to the vast majority of residents in Troup County, the Board of Commissioners has had a total, over the four years, of county funds put into our budget for the chairman’s strategic planning group and the Circles volunteer people,” Gilmore said. “The total not reimbursed for the past four years has been a quarter of a million dollars.”
Gilmore said that commissioners should have used special-purpose, local-option sales taxes to fund convenience center upgrades. He added that the continued support of the Center for Strategic Planning, Circles and other groups are outside the scope of government and paying non-elected people.
Wolfe replied: “From the very beginning you’ve had deep concerns with strategic planning and circles. Let me see if I can make this better for you. In this year’s budget that was just approved, we approved $72,000 in this budget for strategic planning and Circles, this money goes toward helping people find work and trying to help people that are truly dedicated to rising out of poverty.
“Let’s throw DASH (for LaGrange, Wolfe’s non-profit entity) in there, let’s not leave that out. We also last year put $30,000 into a CHIP grant, of which we received $200,000 back for low-income people who own their own homes to stay in those homes later.
“So the money’s going to work to help people who are desperately trying to find work be able to find a job. It’s trying to help people that are desperately in poverty demonstrating that it’s hard to get out of poverty, and it’s trying to help people who own their homes, but for reasons not of their own doing cannot afford repair of their homes.
“If I add those up, we, this year, have committed about $100,000 to those activities. There are 34,000 parcels in Troup County, of which you own one. If I divide 34,000 parcels into $100,000, that’s $2.62. And if it will make you happy, I am willing right now to pay your $2.62 so you won’t have an aversion to worry about anybody trying to find a job, or anybody in poverty.
“So I want it on record, I am paying Mr. Gilmore’s taxes of $2.62 to cover those items. Now does that make you happy now?”
“I find that very condescending mister chairman,” Gilmore replied.
“You do? It’s just the math, which you have a hard time with,” Wolfe said.
“I don’t have a hard time with math at all, I just don’t understand this. Why are we tax payers? Or, first off let me say…”
“I’m gonna give you $2.62. I’m gonna return your $2.62 back,” Wolfe said. “… Will you finish your discussion please? Will you make your point? You’re running out of time.”
“… I’d like to see the people on the strategic planning committee take their money and fund this thing totally, not ask the tax payers to fund something like this. … I and many people have a problem taking tax dollars and giving them to places like TAG (Troup Alive and Green) … I hope that ya’ll will do the fair and reasonable thing and roll back the taxes, because what was approved, what you voted on last summer to do two things: the convenience center upgrades and a new roof on the county jail. There was nothing said about keeping that there for the future.”
Larry Daniel said he believed Gilmore’s intent was to question the legality or ethics of imposing taxes on people to fund groups like in strategic planning or Circles, which should be totally operated by volunteers.
“It’s the legal aspect of it, whether it’s something the taxpayers have to do,” Daniel said.
Commissioner Tripp Foster said he wanted to offer a solution that might help, and proposed commissioners meet to discuss ways to speed up the repairs of the convenience centers. Commissioners had previously decided to spread the cost of upgrades to the convenience centers out over five years instead of borrowing money to do it all at once, Wolfe noted, but said if commissioners now wanted to consider other options they would do so.
Foster also noted that costs to the county have increased through a drastic increase in employees’ health insurance costs, and Commissioner Morris Jones noted that the sheriff’s department costs to tax payers has increased due to the depletion of drug funds from the previous administration. Without the funds available to use to supplement or cover many expenses, the department relies more heavily on tax funds appropriated by the commission, Jones noted. All those factors have contributed to continued costs to the county.
The final hearing on the millage rate will be July 15 at County Commission’s 9 a.m. meeting in the Government Center on Ridley Avenue. The Commission is expected to vote on the millage following the hearing.