Saturday, May 30, 2009
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CONYERS - The Rockdale County Board of Commissioners kept the county millage the same at 14.53 mills during a called meeting Thursday, but local resident Herb Whitson said it is just throwing residents a bone, "all the while our property values are declining rapidly."Whitson argued during public comments that the county needs to reduce its budget. He offered his own suggestions for doing so, which included keeping the current 48 open county employee positions vacant and nixing the public library."Nobody is going to die or be injured if the library is shut down," Whitson said.And the county has "run fine" without filling employee vacancies, Whitson said.Whitson also suggested a renter's tax to bring in more revenue."The burden's always on us," Whitson said of property owners.In his public comments, Whitson mentioned the fact that the current tax digest is 61 percent residential taxes, compared to the 55 percent in 2005.Rockdale County Board of Commission Chairman Richard Oden acknowledged the increased residential digest in his closing remarks and said it was a direct result of a lack of planning.Oden said challenging times are ahead, but assured a commitment from the Board of Commissioners to be "fiscally responsible."But leveling out a lopsided digest is not all on the government's shoulders, according to Oden, who encouraged the public to "shop Rockdale County.""We could put a small dent in our tax digest," Oden said, referring to the homestead option sales tax, or HOST.Rockdale County may not have all the amenities of its neighbors, Oden said, but residents should at least try to buy locally first.Oden also briefly mentioned a need to focus on preparing the county's infrastructure, namely water and sewer, to attract business.Furloughs for Rockdale County employees may become a viable option in the 2010 and 2011 budgets, as Oden referenced cuts to staffing budgets in neighboring Gwinnett County's police department.Following Thursday's board meeting, Commissioner Oz Nesbitt said the board has done all it could to avoid employee furloughs. "However, it seems inevitable," Nesbitt said.If staff furloughs are implemented, Nesbitt said he wanted to make it clear that furloughs should not be taken personally."More people personalize it than look at the business aspect of it," Nesbitt said. "We've got to make some tough decisions."In keeping the millage rate the same this year, the commissioners also acknowledged a 20 percent rollback of the homestead exemption on residential properties provided through HOST collections. For the first time since HOST was implemented in 2003, county homeowners will receive an 80 percent homestead exemption on the county's maintenance and operations portion of their property tax bills rather than 100 percent.Oden announced earlier this month in a press conference that the 100 percent exemption would no longer be possible because of a $3.3 million gap in 2008 collections and county projections that are applied for this year's tax bills.By law, 80 percent of HOST revenue must go toward funding county M&O and up to 20 percent of revenues can used for capital improvements.However, county officials said they will not fund any capital projects through HOST this year and all revenues will go toward funding M&O and providing the 80 percent homestead exemption.Rockdale County needs $13.5 million to cover the 80 percent exemption this year, according to Rockdale County Finance Director Roselyn Miller. The county has collected $5.2 million as of May.Alena Parker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.