Budget time for local governments was fairly uneventful this year. The economy is improving, and tax increases over the past few years have put our county and school system on solid ground.
County commissioner Jonathan Pitts proposed reducing county taxes by one-quarter of a mill. The move would be largely symbolic, to show that the commissioners understand how their decisions affect our household budgets.
While one commissioner pushes only for projects in one district, the remainder of the board has been focused on the big picture. One of the biggest infrastructure projects in recent history is underway, providing sewer to areas that are in desperate need of help in the south side of the county.
The newly annointed Morris Bank Recreation Complex has become a public-private partnership to provide opportunities for our county’s youngsters with significant investment from taxpayers.
Since taxes are not competitive with neighboring communities, keeping our focus on strong law enforcement to keep citizens safe and a school system that provides a job or college opportunity for every student who works hard are the keys to our continued success.
Reducing property taxes in those areas would not help reach that goal. For years, most expenses were just to maintain the status quo, but we can’t afford to leave our citizens or our students behind.
The City of Gray is another story. To the credit of the city council, for the last decade, the city has been by far on the most solid financial ground. Fiscal responsibility plays a big part of that, but the city coffers received a windfall in 2007 during a county-wide revaluation.
Yes, county property increased, but the biggest increases came from commercial properties. That means the biggest increases happened within the city limits. Both the city and county had mild tax rate rollbacks, but the city has been running saving the surplus ever since.
That strategy has paid off because the city was able to support the Downtown Development Authority by purchasing property, which is a good use of surplus funds by literally investing in the community.
A strong downtown will benefit us greatly, but the city council needs to make some adjustments moving forward. Either more of the funds placed in CDs and low-interest accounts should be invested in real estate, or the millage rate should be decreased to give some relief to property owners.
When the budget operates off of 85 tax collections, yet 98 percent of taxes are collected, there will be a surplus. Rather than pocketing the profit, the funds should either be invested to the benefit of citizens or returned to those who have paid it.
Otherwise, we’ll keep doing things like saving money for a wastewater treatment plant that never gets built.