Stephens Co. Commission Approves Mill Rate Increase

Stephens County Commissioners sign off on a millage rate increase.

Tuesday, county commissioners voted 4 to 1 on a 2.34 mill increase in the county government’s millage rate, taking it from 11.32 to 13.66 mills.

Commissioners Dean Scarborough, Michelle Grafton, Dennis Bell, and Debbie Whitlock all voted in favor of the increase.

Scarborough said for him, it was an extremely tough decision.

“As you know, I voted against the budget last year,” said Scarborough. “I looked at the budget this year. We spent many hours looking at the budget and to fund the county operation that we have to fund, that the citizens need us to fund and want us to fund, at this time, with the digest shrinkage that occurred, the revenue was not there without a millage rate increase.”

Commissioner Stanley London voted against the millage rate increase.

London said that he still feels that the county is asking too much of taxpayers.

“When I took this position, I felt like our government should be controlled by the economy,” said London. “If our economy goes down, our government should follow suit. The household incomes are not justified by how they can recoup this money. Our prices are going to go up in any industry to justify the increase in our taxes. It is a no-brainer. Rental property rates are going to go up. (Prices of) products in Stephens County are going to go up. We are just killing ourselves, shooting ourselves in the foot, if we think larger government is the way to do it. It is not.”

The county’s 2.34 mill increase is .51 mills less than the original 2.85 mill increase that was proposed.

Commissioners reduced the increase after meeting last Thursday and cutting an additional $319,000 or so from the county’s Fiscal Year 2015 budget.

Also on Tuesday, county commissioners approved the school system’s millage rate of 20 mills, as set by the Stephens County Board of Education, by a vote of 4 to 1.

Stephens County Attorney Brian Ranck said the county commission’s approval of the school millage is required by state law.

“Generally speaking the role of the county commission is to call for the levy,” said Ranck. “The school board itself sets their millage. The county commission has no input in setting the millage or determining what the school taxes are going to be.”

According to Ranck, only the county commission has the authority to levy a tax.

Commissioners London, Scarborough, Grafton, and Whitlock voted to approve the school system’s rate.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Bell voted against it.

Bell said he cannot support it, even if it is a formality.

“It is an administerial thing, like a rubber stamp,” said Bell. “Well, I am not a rubber stamp for the state of Georgia or any federal government.”

Bell said he does not feel the school board should raise its millage rate without completing a full investigation and providing the county answers as to how it ended up in a multi-million dollar shortfall.

He also said he wants to know why it is taking so long to get those answers.

Combining the county government’s 2.34 mill increase and the school system’s 1.6 mill increase, someone in a $100,000 home with no exemptions will see an increase of about $157.60 in their combined county and school taxes this coming year.