By Michelle Price
Special to the UCBJ
PUTNAM COUNTY – Monday night, the Putnam County Commission passed its Fiscal year 2021-22 budget with a 10-cent property tax increase by a vote of 19-5 after much discussion about the impacts of the increase.
The new tax rate will be $2.472, an increase of 10 cents from the new certified rate of $2.372 following reappraisal. This will equate to an increase of $25 per $100,000 of appraised value according to figures supplied by Putnam County Tax Assessor Steve Pierce.
Commissioner A J Donadio stressed that inflation was a major contributor to the increase and that the unfortunate thing is, it’s not our fault but it is our problem.
“I would challenge everyone who votes no to give us an alternate plan,” Donadio said. “Give us something that we can work with. I looked at this and for every $211,000 that will reduce it one penny. I can’t find that money to cut and I wish I could.”
Commissioner Jonathan Williams pointed out that inflation is currently at 5% and the proposed tax increase was 4%, so the increase in taxes doesn’t even keep up with the rate of inflation, yet the value that taxpayers are going to receive is tremendous. He went on to list some of the things this budget will provide:
- A brand new K-8 school
- A new jail expansion
- Three additional firefighters to serve the Bangham and Monterey areas
- One new ambulance and the staff to man it
- Raises for school employees
- Raises for county employees
- Additional employees needed for certain offices (Clerks, Parks & Rec and Assessors)
A total of 15 new employees are included in the budget including three new firefighters, two new 911 dispatchers, a new deputy in the County Clerk’s office, a new field appraiser in the Assessor’s office, one custodian for the health department and one for the Parks and Recreation Department, four paramedics for EMS, a new library employee, whose salary will be split with the city, and a new employee at the Family Justice Center, whose salary will be covered by a state grant.
The raises for county employees will be reflected in an updated pay scale elevating the wages for all positions. Commissioners hope that will help with recruitment and retention of county workers.
“We are having a hard time hiring workers within our county when we’re not paying that much different than McDonalds for somebody who’s going to be dispatching,” Donadio shared. “It’s the same amount of pay – $11 at McDonalds is $22,000 a year … it’s about what we pay dispatchers. We can’t hire them.”
Commissioner Jimmy Neal discussed the repeated requests for emergency services personnel.
“If I need a fire truck, I want to be sure that there is somebody who can man that truck and come to me,” Neal said. “If I need an ambulance or a friend of mine needs an ambulance or a family member needs an ambulance, I want to know that there’s going to be somebody there to drive that ambulance. And furthermore, I want to know that that ambulance is not going to break down on the way to me.”
He also stressed the need for a new school. “If you go over to Park View and look at that school – kids shouldn’t have to be over there. How do you tell those kids they have to be in that school when other kids are in newer schools?”
Commissioner Joe Iwanyszyn expressed concerns that he had received from a constituent who personally budgeted very closely and was concerned that a tax increase could cause them to lose their home.
Williams said they didn’t want to see anyone lose their home over a tax increase. He reminded everyone that the county has a tax relief fund. You can apply through the tax assessor’s office.
Commissioner Cindy Adams commented that most know she hates tax increases, but she was going to vote in favor of this one. She said that she did the math on her own home to determine the true impact. She said that although the numbers represented in the news were accurate, they were a little bit confusing to some people, so that’s why she calculated her own home.
“Its appraised value went up $46,000. My increase in taxes from last year to this year with the 10-cent raise will be $16 for the year,” Adams said. “If my home goes up $46,000, I’m okay with spending an extra $16 for the year in order for the employees of this county to have what they need. I feel that’s a reasonable amount.”
Commissioners did not take the vote lightly, with five commissioners – Jerry Ford, Jordan Iwanyszyn, Theresa Tayes, Jerry Roberson and Joe Iwanyszyn – voting not to pass the increase.
“This is not a tax increase for the sake of increasing taxes. We are a growing county, and we have to scale up county services,” Williams added. “I feel confident that this is a budget that is careful with your tax dollars while meeting our direct county needs.”