County commissioners voted 3-2 Wednesday morning to increase the Baldwin County millage rate to 10.5 mills.
According to a press release issued by the county last month, that is an 8.9% increase over the rollback rate.
Commission Chairman Henry Craig opened the meeting and read a resolution from the Board of Education to levy 15.29 mills.
Commissioner Emily Davis asked if that motion could be separated from the county’s millage rate, and the county attorney answered that it could.
“We have no control over what the Board of Education does,” Davis said.
A motion was made to sever the motions, which was approved unanimously. A motion to accept the BOE resolution also passed unanimously.
Assistant County Manager Dawn Hudson read the resolution to set the millage rate for Baldwin County.
“Presented for you is a tax levy for 2021 at 10.5 mills and a hospital indigent care district of $25,” she said. “The increase is needed to fund the increasing mandates and obligations of the county.”
Before calling for a motion to approve the rate, Craig asked his fellow commissioners for any discussion.
“And we need you to give the cuts you would like to make as part of your no vote,” he said.
Davis said, even if someone votes no, they would have to get with Hudson and other county staff to put that proposal together.
“I disagree,” Craig said. “We’ve all seen this information for several weeks now. We’ve had the opportunity to seek information from the county staff to propose what services we would reduce if we don’t accept the 10.5 millage rate.
“If you have suggestions, now is a good time to do it.”
Commissioner Kendrick Butts said he opposed the increase.
“As a committee, we never sat down to discuss what we can cut,” he said. “I believe in my analysis, the fire department and animal services can be reduced. There’s $798,000 we could maybe save. And for the ambulance service, we’re going from $0 to $198,000.
“So for that reason, until we discuss everything, I have to oppose the 10.5 mills.”
Commissioner Sammy Hall said none of the commissioners wants to raise taxes.
“I certainly realize the predicament we’re in,” he said. “We can all say we’re opposed to taxes, but we’re in a critical situation where 85% of our budget is mandated by the State of Georgia. There’s only 15% we can control, and costs are going up to the county like everybody else.
“Now is not the best time to raise taxes, but we have to get to the opposite side of the ditch. We live on a very bare bones budget. Reluctantly, I have to support the tax increase.”
Commissioner John Westmoreland agreed, saying he didn’t see any discretionary items that could be cut.
Craig emphasized that he respects the opinions of Davis and Butts.
“But, for eight years, I’ve worked very diligently to provide the best services we can for Baldwin County with the resources we have,” he said. “Seven years ago, we raised the rate by one mill. Since then, our property digest has stagnated or moved up very incrementally.
“Respectfully, I do not support reducing fire services. And as far as ambulance service, I’ve studied what goes on in other counties, and the increase for our community as compared to other counties is very low.”
Craig said the county would continue to negotiate with the ambulance service.
“We’ll have to pay some amount for it, in my opinion,” he said.
When it came time to vote, Craig, Hall and Westmoreland voted in favor. Davis and Butts opposed.