County Commissioner Mitchell Smith looks at a group of Dade County residents, most of whom objected to a proposed 44 percent property tax increase. Smith and the rest of the commission refused to vote for the proposal.Photo by Tyler Jett
TRENTON, Ga. — Waiting for an elected official to make a motion to vote for a 44 percent property tax increase, Dade County Commissioner Allan Bradford took a deep breath.
"This is one of the hardest things I've ever done," he said Thursday night, sitting in front of a packed audience during the commission meeting in the Dade County Administrative Building.
The crowd, so big that some residents had to watch from outside the building, erupted.
"Don't do it!"
"You better have a good retirement plan!"
"Cut the waste!"
"Don't do it!"
Bradford shouted over the crowd.
"I'm still not sure what I want to do," he said. "I'm still sitting here, thinking."
With that, 77-year-old Kenneth Duncan stood up from his front-row seat. Duncan has lived in Dade County since he retired. He lives on his grandmother's 112-acre property. The proposed property tax increase would cost Duncan about $750 more a year.
Duncan lives on Social Security. He said he can't afford higher taxes.
"Anybody who votes to raise taxes 44 percent," he told the crowd, "everybody vote against him."
Duncan then walked out of the room as the crowd applauded.
Instead of voting, the commission decided to open the room up for citizens' comments. They had already done this three times -- twice last week and once earlier Thursday night. But the citizens continued to shout.
For about 45 more minutes, Dade County residents made suggestions from their seats.
"Do what you have to do now," one man yelled. "But fix the problems going for ... "
"Nooooooo!" several members of the crowd shouted, drowning out the man's voice.
It got quiet, for a second. Then another woman spoke up from her seat:
"Form a committee to figure out how to fix the problem!"
Finally, County Executive Ted Rumley asked the other three commissioners in attendance whether anyone wanted to make a motion to approve the property tax increase. For two minutes, nobody spoke up. Bradford shook his head and licked his lips.
Finally, Bradford told the audience that he couldn't make the motion. Commissioners Mitchell Smith and Richard Breeden also declined to speak up.
The crowd applauded. Some stood and cheered.
Now, the commission will go back to the drawing board. County Financial Officer Don Townsend said that, without the property tax increase, the commission would have to cut $1.2 million from the county budget. That means several county employees may lose their jobs.
Before the meeting, Rumley said the county had to increase taxes because the government's operating costs had increased. He said the commission was going to increase the taxes in 2011, but it couldn't' fathom charging citizens more money after the tornadoes swept through that year.
For the next two years, Rumley said a tax increase was unreasonable because people were still recovering from the storms. This year, they needed a big tax hike to make up for previously cutting residents some slack.
On Thursday night, Rumley said this was one of the most lively meetings he has been a part of in six years as county executive. He plans to meet with department heads like the sheriff and the tax commissioner next week to discuss whose jobs and what services they can afford to cut.
"It's a good thing," he said of Thursday's meeting. "That's what a public hearing is all about: Actually have the people speak out and talk to us. ... We're going to get back, get the knife out and start cutting again."
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.