published Thursday, August 1st, 2013

Catoosa County commissioners OK millage hike

Less than 24 hours after the Catoosa County Schools board voted to raise taxes, the County Commission voted for its own tax increase.

In a special called meeting Wednesday morning, commissioners voted 3-1 to increase the county-levied tax rate by .9 mills. That increase means Catoosa taxpayers will be stuck with a combined millage increase of 2.85 mills for the coming year, which translates to around $135 in additional annual taxes for the owner of a home assessed at $100,000.

“The federal government has operated for many years on a deficit budget, and we just can’t operate the county that way,” Commissioner Jim Cutler said of the county’s budget that has been running on a deficit since 2010. “It’s not being fiscally responsible. We decided to trim the budget as much as we can and pull the county away from a deficit spending mentality.”

Originally county staff proposed a budget with a deficit of $2.2 million for next year that would have required a tax hike of 1.5 mills to make ends meet.

A long list of cuts to that budget, including the elimination of new hires in several county offices, reducing attorney fees and opting not to buy a new vehicle for the building and inspection department, helped drop the deficit down to around $1.5 million, Catoosa County Chief Financial Director Carl Henson said.

But everyone wasn’t satisfied with those cuts.

“I would like for you guys to really sharpen your pencils here and get down to the nitty-gritty here of what we really need and what we really don’t need,” Ringgold resident Rodney Laurance said before the vote.

“What I’m trying to get at here is, while taxes are increasing, a lot of times the jobs are decreasing and [Catoosa residents] are also not making as much money as they once were,” he said.

Commission Chairman Keith Greene maintained the staff and commissioners made as many cuts as possible.

“We’re crossing the line where we have to do something in order to maintain the services we have because of lost revenues,” he said. “Being the conservative Republicans that we are, we’re trying to do and operate to the same level of efficiency we’re expected to have.”

Contact staff writer Rachel Sauls at rsauls@timesfreepress.com or 757-6439.

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