Fayette holds hearing on budget, fire tax increase

No property tax increase, but fire tax hike eyed

The Fayette County Commission will hold its second and final public hearing on the 2012-2013 budget at its regular meeting Thursday night in downtown Fayetteville.

To avoid a countywide property tax increase, the commission plans to balance the 2012-2013 general fund budget with $1.4 million in unrestricted cash reserves.

But property owners in unincorporated Fayette County, Tyrone, Brooks and Woolsey will likely see a property tax increase for their fire millage rate, as revenues otherwise would plummet by $750,000 thanks to a 12.8 percent decrease in property values.

A county fire millage rate increase of .523 mills has been recommended by county staff to recoup that amount and cover other items that previously have been paid for by the general fund: administrative costs, vehicle replacements and capital needs.

The only true way for the county to cut its fire budget further would be to reduce personnel, County Administrator Jack Krakeel told the commission recently.

For a homeowner with a home valued at $250,000, they would pay another $50 a year for fire services under the proposed millage increase, according to county Finance Director Mary Holland.

On the flip side, if that $250,000 home had its value decrease to $218,000, the homeowner would realize a $10 increase on his yearly tax bill, Holland added.

The fire tax is not assessed to residents living in Peachtree City and Fayetteville because they have their own fire departments.

The catch is that since most of the large industrial and commercial businesses are located inside the city limits of Peachtree City and Fayetteville, the county fire tax depends heavily on residential property owners. And as their property values have taken a significant drop in recent years, so too have the revenues from the fire tax.

Using the $1.4 million in cash reserves for the county’s $45.2 million general fund budget would leave the county with $10.8 million of a “rainy day” reserve fund on hand for future years.

The county’s total use of funds is $80.8 million, which includes the $45.2 million general fund, $15.1 million in special revenue funds such as the fire, EMS and 911 taxes, $15.8 million for enterprise funds such as the county’s water utility which is covered exclusively by fees and another $4.6 million for the capital improvement and vehicle replacement programs combined.

In addition to using the cash reserves, the county also expects to save $1.1 million via its early retirement benefit program and gain another $200,000 in revenue by increasing building inspection fees. Another $543,000 in savings was found by closing projects no longer deemed critical and those which came in under budget.

There is also a potential to realize a savings of $948,000 which is currently slated for a second phase of Kenwood Park in north Fayette. The county could decide to spend that money elsewhere in the budget, but doing so would not endanger a parking lot expansion that is seen as necessary due to the popularity of the park, officials have said previously.

In other business, the commission is expected to nearly double many building inspection fees in an attempt to ease the burden on property taxpayers for the operations of the building department.

The new fees would also bring the county in line with similar fees being charged in other nearby jurisdictions.

County staff is recommending the new fees be implemented starting in August, with the expectation for an additional $200,000 in revenue due to the changes.