Commissioners have bad timing on tax decrease

Republicans aren’t generally known for passing up a chance to cut taxes. At least in their rhetoric, they support lower tax rates.

But Tuesday, Commissioner Ben Moss — the only Republican on the county board, and the youngest member — did exactly that.

During a budget workshop prior to the county commissioners’ regular meeting, Commissioner Thad Ussery proposed dropping the county property tax rate from $0.81 per $100 of valuation to $0.79.

“We feel that this would work,” Ussery said during the regular meeting. “We want to give our taxpayers a break.”

Moss and Commissioner Don Bryant were the only two to vote against it — and for good reason.

According to Moss, his decision was based on upcoming large-scale projects that will be pretty pricey, including the construction of a new jail and renovations to the old Richmond County Courthouse.

He also criticized the other commissioners for voting for the decrease just minutes after asking for several amendments that weren’t originally funded in the county budget.

For Moss, and for us, the timing just isn’t right.

As the commissioner said after the vote, “I just don’t want to come back in a year or two years and hit the taxpayers for another (increase).”

Which is more than likely what will happen.

The county is in much better shape financially than it was several years ago, but is still servicing $25 million in school bonds, as well as a $20 million loan for the Richmond County Judicial Center, as County Manager Rick Sago pointed out in the budget message.

Sago also mentioned the county is “still suffering from a lag in property tax values.”

“It has become increasingly difficult for a county government to fund mandated services, much less service required debt,” Sago wrote. “Additionally, the continued uncertainty associated with the local, state, national and global economy is cause for concern in the coming year as well as in future years.”

At last estimate, a 200-bed jail would cost the county about $25 million, depending on location, according to Sago.

Another project brought up during the work session was finding a new home, with better parking, for the Board of Elections.

Seems it would be harder to fund all of that with less revenue coming in.

The county has managed to keep the current tax rate for the past eight years, which is to be commended.

Lowering taxes seems like a good idea, and is always preferable to raising them.

However, we agree with Moss that it would be better to wait in order to prevent a tax increase in the near future.

By lowering the tax rate, therefore decreasing the amount of money flowing into the county’s coffers, it just means the commissioners will have to sign off on borrowing even more money — putting the county deeper in debt, which would, in turn, eventually lead to the tax rate being raised again.

Does that sound fiscally responsible?

We applaud Moss and Bryant for taking a stand, and wish the other commissioners could have seen things their way.
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