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Georgia revenue officials grant Clayton County commissioners a millage rate extension

JONESBORO — The Georgia Department of Revenue has granted Clayton County commissioners a one-month extension to approve the Fiscal Year 2015 millage rate.

Tax Commissioner Terry Baskin was supposed to send the county’s proposed millage rate to the state for approval by Aug. 1 at 9 a.m. But those plans changed after the board of commissioners failed to approve the 2 percent millage rate increase at its last public hearing July 22.

Instead, Clayton County asked the state for an extension and was allowed to hold off on sending a proposed millage rate until Sept. 2. That means the board will likely approve the rate at its Aug. 19 meeting, giving Baskin a little over a week to package the proposal properly and send it to the state.

Baskin said there was no penalty associated with the extension.

Only four board members attended the July 22 hearing and the rate increase failed after it received a 2-2 vote. Rooks and Turner voted for the 2 percent millage rate increase. Commissioners Sonna Singleton Gregory and Gail Hambrick voted against it. Michael Edmondson was absent.

The increase would mean the owner of a $150,000 home in incorporated Clayton County could expect to see about a $10.40 increase in property taxes. The increase also features a 6 percent increase in the fire fund. That means residents who live in areas serviced by Clayton County Fire Department will see about a $40.40 increase in their property taxes.

Gregory and Hambrick said they don’t intend to change their mind about the 2 percent millage rate increase. The two didn’t vote for the Fiscal Year 2015 budget when it passed by a 3-2 vote July 1 and neither wanted to vote for the tax increase that came with it, either.

“I did not support the chairman’s budget because of the use of nearly $14 million of reserves and an additional proposed tax increase,” she wrote. “The CFO has said that this budget is not sustainable. Last night I did not vote in favor of the proposed millage rate hike to raise the taxes of the tax payers of Clayton County.”

But county CFO Ramona Thurman told Clayton News Daily that she’d never actually said the budget was not sustainable.

Turner said at the time something doesn’t add up. He pointed out that both Hambrick and Gregory voted for a “substantial jump” in the millage rate in 2011.

“I understand the commissioners’ point about not raising the millage and taxes, but I also look back in 2011 when they voted to approve a millage increase from 11.327 to 15.813 percent — which equated to a 39.604 percent millage increase,” he said. “(That) cost the taxpayers $224.30. Two percent would cost the taxpayers of Clayton County … $10.40.”

Turner and Rooks also pointed out the money raised by the increase would go to the fire department, a department which the county has been funding by pulling money out of the reserves for the past three or four years.

Fire Chief Landry Merkison told the board during the hearing that the department hasn’t added any new positions for the past six years and hasn’t been operating fully-staffed. He said if he needed to cut his $1.4 million budget to decrease the millage rate, he’d also have to cut some more jobs.

“If I’m asked to cut any more than I’ve already done, it’s people,” he said. “Folks will lose their jobs — which will have a direct correlation on services.”

Hambrick and Gregory did not want to reconsider their stance after Turner and Merkison’s discussions.

Check out news-daily.com or upcoming issues of Clayton News Daily for updates.