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No tax increase for Lowndes; Brooks seeks transparency in budget meetings

 

Kristin Mamrack

 

The Lowndes County Board of Supervisors Wednesday approved a 2011 fiscal year budget with no millage increase. 

 

The budget approved reflects total expenditures of $34.42 million, down $5.12 million from the FY 2010 budget. 

 

The budget also reflects revenue of $34.67 million, down $4.73 million from the FY 2010 budget. 

 

The board voted 5 to 1 to approve the budget, with District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks voting in opposition over objections of the "process" by which the supervisors discussed the budget prior to adoption. 

 

"I just don''t think it''s good policy not to have an open workshop (to discuss the budget)," he explained, noting the Columbus City Council adopts the city''s budget only after a series of meetings, open to the public, to discuss the budget and the supervisors meet, two at a time, with County Administrator Ralph Billingsley to discuss the budget, prior to adoption, without holding public meetings on the matter. "The process does not provide the public the transparency people want. Not having a budget workshop, I just don''t think that''s a good way to do it. 

 

"If you''re looking at a multimillion dollar budget, that''s not the way to do it," he continued. "In the same time it took you all to meet with Ralph and (Chief Financial Officer Dave Basinger), we could have all met around the table." 

 

Board President and District 1 Supervisor Harry Sanders noted the county administrator is responsible for formulating the budget, and a public hearing, which was unattended by the public, was held before adoption. 

 

"The point is you ought to not be doing it in the back room," said Brooks. "That''s almost like going in the bathroom, locking the door and being informed. I don''t think we ought to be conducting business like that." 

 

The supervisors also set the FY 2011 total millage at 87.77, the same rate as FY 2010, including 40.01 mills for the county and 47.76 mills for the Lowndes County School District. A mill is worth $486,000 in the county and $300,000 in the county school district. 

 

In the city of Columbus, a mill is worth $173,000, and in the city school district a mill is valued at $208,000. 

 

The value of a mill increased for both the county and the county school district, but Lowndes County Tax Assessor/Collector Greg Andrews later explained the increase does not necessarily mean higher property and car tag taxes for residents. 

 

"Just because the value of a mill increases or decreases, doesn''t have anything to do with the millage being higher or lower," said Andrews. "The millage is determined by a simple formula -- revenue needed by each entity divided by the worth of a mill. The revenues for each entity, whether they''re spending more or spending less, determines what that millage is going to be. Whether the revenue goes up or down determines whether the millage goes up or down, based on the value of a mill." 

 

Additionally, when the value of a mill is increased, valuations of property usually are decreased to offset the difference, he noted. 

 

Andrews estimated a homeowner in the county will pay $561.20 on a $100,000 home.

 

 

 

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