BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – In a public hearing for the 2021 budget, Sole Commissioner Lamar Paris presented the $21,748,780 budget. It will be adopted on December 28 at 4:30 p.m. at the Union County Courthouse.
The budget featured an 11.7 percent increase from 2020, which was $19,462,648. The reasons for the increases included three percent pay raise to county employees (+$440,000), property reevaluation (+$380,000), county’s potential share of gun range expenses (+$500,000), state cutting budgets (+$70,000), health care costs (+$100,000), vehicle and equipment repairs (+$20,000), repairs and maintenance (+$22,000), vehicle purchases (+$40,000), retirement plan matching (+$36,000), LMIG grants (-$104,000), operating costs for the new sports center, and COVID-19 expenses.
The county had to raise financing for the library, health department, court system, and other partially state-funded organizations because the state cut budgets by 15 percent.
The $500,000 budgeted for the gun range could decrease depending on the outcome of the project. DNR listed exacting specifications to receive aid.
Several departments and offices experienced a budget escalation from 2020 with a few decreasing such as elections and health. The three percent employee raise and accounting for state budget cuts account for some of the increases.
“Every year our department heads and elected officials submit their budget requests to our office. We go through all the numbers and items compared to previous years budgets and actual expenditures and cut anywhere possible to get our total budget as low as we reasonably can. However, this is a difficult task because all our county offices and departments do an outstanding job each and every year to be practical and responsible with our budgets.” Paris stated.
County revenues grew in 2020 as well. SPLOST collections well outpaced previous years with November reaching $528,176.50.
The millage rate was set in the summer and increased to 7.361 mills. The overall increase will be 6.8 percent on the school property taxes are factored in. A homestead property with a market value of $100,000 will see a $46.25 tax hike. A non-homestead property valued at $200,000 will experience a $97.26 tax increase.
For years, Paris kept the millage rates low to save property owners money, but the county found it necessary to raise the millage rate this year to replenish the fund balance and cover operating expenses. According to the commissioner, if the counties maintained previous millage rates, Union County’s new rate would still rank in the lowest 10 percent in Georgia.
“Property tax revenue in 2020 was short almost $1 million dollars,” Paris explained.
The tax increase generated $1,629,229.
He also addressed the need to raise salaries for the sheriff’s office, jail, 911 dispatch to keep employees in the county. Paris thanked Sheriff Mack Mason for trying to keep costs low.
A state-required county property reevaluation is currently underway, so the millage rate could drop next year. The cost of the reevaluation is $380,000.