Despite vocal opposition during a public hearing, the Board of County Commissioners voted last night in a 3-2 decision to continue discussion of raising property taxes to provide a raise for county employees.
County Administrator Hunter Walker explained the changes to the county budget, with two proposed millage rates. The current millage rate is 6.0953, but the board is looking to raise it to 6.2793, which would net an additional $1.35 million to the county coffers, providing a three percent cost of living adjustment---the first in five years---to county employees. The increase in the millage rate would cost property owners an additional $18 per $100,000 in property value annually.
Around 60 people showed up to the public hearing to voice their disagreements, show support and raise issues with the proposed tax hike. Several people raised concerns with a shrinking county tax roll, citing zoning issues and out-of-the-county interests.
Sam Mullins was one of those concerned citizens. He said he had just heard that the average family of four had lost around $4,800 dollars in annual spending ability. He mentioned power rates are expected to rise seven-and-a-half percent, and the county is proposing a sales tax to pay for a new court house.
"When do you stop squeezing the average American family," Mullins questioned. "If things are that tight, if we need money for raises, let's cut out some of the riding arenas, the parks, and let's give them a raise. But don't come put the burden on some that are already stretched here."
Commissioners Jim Williamson and Jim Melvin voted against further discussion of the increased rate, saying they did not feel it was the proper time to consider raising taxes.
"We have great employees in this county," Williamson said. "We have less people doing more. I think that comes to what kind of employees we have and what kind of management we have."
Williamson said he is a private-sector businessman, and has not been in the position to give his employees a raise in the past four to five years, either. He did say that county employees have consistent 40-hour work weeks, something he has been fortunate to offer his employees in a tough market.
"I just don't think this is the time," Williamson said. "When the time comes that we generate enough revenue, I'll be the first one in line to give them a raise because I think we have some great employees."
Commissioners Lane Lynchard, Don Salter and Chairman Bob Cole voted to continue further discussion of the millage rate increase. There will be one more public hearing about the property tax hike Sept. 16 at 6 p.m.
"We have a high growth rate," Salter said. "People want to come to Santa Rosa County because of all the things we enjoy. That enjoyment has a price tag on it. Nobody wants to raise taxes, but there's a cost to maintain the quality of life we have in this county and if we start to lose it, that quality is about to be gone forever."