The Liberty County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday held the last of three public hearing sessions regarding the millage rate increase before adopting the new rate at its 6 p.m. regular meeting.
Citizens and commissioners again heard from county Chief Financial Officer Kim McGlothlin, who gave an overview of the county’s finances and the impact the failure of the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax has had on the budget.
McGlothlin explained that the county’s expenditures fall under three categories: mandated, essential and discretionary. Mandated services comprise roughly 67 percent of the budget, while essential services make up approximately 30 percent. Discretionary services account for about two percent of budgeted expenses.
Examples of “essential” services include fire protection, emergency medical services, animal control, roads and walkways and 911. McGlothlin emphasized the fact that the county is not legally obligated to provide these services.
“They’re not mandated, but certainly we recognize that those things … are all essential to a growing, thriving community,” she said.
Discretionary services include public information, school resource officers, community and senior-citizen services and the narcotics division.
McGlothlin also provided a five-year history of the county’s tax digest and operational budget.
In 2009, the county’s millage rate for residents in the city of Hinesville was 11.4. It dropped to 11.3 in 2010, and held at 11.3 through 2011. In 2012, it dropped again to 11.18, where it remained through 2013. This year, the millage rate increased to 12.63.
For all other incorporated and unincorporated county areas, the millage rate held steady at 11.98 from 2009-11. In 2012, it increased to 12.58, where it remained through 2013. This year, it has increased to 13.84, which McGlothlin attributed to the failure of SPLOST.
“When SPLOST did not pass, there were two impacts,” she said, explaining that the county received a general indirect-cost allocation of $350,000 to operate SPLOST. The county’s general fund will now lose that direct revenue, McGlothlin said.
The second impact, she explained, is the loss of support for capital repairs, replacements and improvements, which are allowed for under SPLOST guidelines.
“If an AC unit on (the courthouse annex) goes out, that could be anywhere from $30,000 to $50,000,” McGlothlin said. “That’s a capital expenditure. So, even though SPLOST — special purpose — is for special projects, it can be and has been used for anything outside the normal operations.
“You would like to think that the general fund only takes care of operations, and not those capital items,” she continued. “Patrol vehicles, EMS, fire trucks and ambulances … all of those qualify for capital expenditures.”
The county’s general-fund operational budget since 2009, as presented by McGlothlin (numbers in millions):
Fiscal year 2009: $25.21
FY 2010: $24.47
FY 2011: $24.17
FY 2012: $23.35
FY 2013: $24.21
FY 2014: $25.16
FY 2015: $25.56
Although the county had originally proposed millage rates of 13 for Hinesville and 14.2 for all other incorporated and unincorporated areas, McGlothlin said that she and County Administrator Joey Brown were able to “whittle down” some of the projected capital-funding needs, resulting in a total budget shortfall of $1,399,164 — roughly $400,000 less than originally projected.
McGlothlin proposed millage rates of 12.63 for Hinesville and 13.84 for the rest of the county.
The commission voted unanimously to adopt the proposed millage rates, with the exception of District 2 Commissioner Justin Frasier, who was absent from the meeting.
In other business, the commission unanimously approved a final plat for Yellow Bluff Phase II B, which is located off of Oyster Point Drive in the Yellow Bluff subdivision.
The board also reappointed Richard Braun as chairman of the Board of Elections.