ELLIJAY, Ga. – After the August meeting of both the Board of Commissioners and the Board of Education, the commissioners reconvened for final approval for the collection of both millage rates in Gilmer County.
The Gilmer County Board of Education approved its Rollback Rate of 14.248 mills generating $16.8 million according to estimations by Gilmer County Financial Officer Sandi Holden. This rate was approved unanimously by the Board of Commissioners for collection.
The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners approved its Rollback Rate of 6.898 mills generating about $9.7 million according to Holden. This rate was approved 2-1 by the board with Dallas Miller being the dissenting vote.
The Commissioners then approved the 1.5 mills bond rate for the county generating about $2 million according to Post Commissioner Dallas Miller.
The bond millage was called into question by local citizen Joene DePlancke who noted the county’s growth and bond refinancings that the county has done.
DePlancke said she wasn’t speaking in opposition to the 1 mill bond rate, but rather the extra half mill added later. She went on to say, “I think it is unfair to the citizens of this county to keep telling them you have to have [1.5 mill] for the bond payments when we collect more than enough from SPLOST to cover the refinanced bonds.”
Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris told DePlancke that the 2017 bond payment was significantly less due to the refinancing at the time. With that refinancing, that year’s payment was reduced, allowing the county to use the extra funds, but also having that payment show far less.
Paris went on to point out that the bond payments are continuing to increase as well. Both 2019 and 2020 will see increases. Holden said the 2020 payment is expected to total just over $4 million. The payments over the last few years could not be looked at, according to Paris, as a measure of what they will be going forward.
Paris also noted that the Commissioners had a discussion in their August meeting about reducing the half mill on the bond millage, but decided to keep it as the payments are increasing as well as facing major issues such as the leachate leakage at the county landfill. Paris said the commissioners ultimately decided to wait and revisit the idea of removing the half mill next year. Additionally, while the county could continue forward without the half mill and maintain the needs for bond payment and this landfill issue, they would have to abandon every plan and improvement planned for other areas like the road department.
DePlancke reiterated her concerns on the bond millage saying, “You’ll always have a reason to spend it… There are so many things that need to be done, but you put it on there for bond payment. I feel like that is not honest to the citizens. You’re using it for other things.”
Paris said he didn’t agree that they would never give the half mill back, but asked what DePlancke she would have the county do, if they dropped the half mill, for the capital needs for the road department?
DePlancke responded, “You’ve got all the numbers there. I can’t answer that off the top of my head, but I’d love to have a crack at it.”
As discussion continued, Miller spoke as well, defending the bond millage. He said, “Our facilities, our infrastructure in this county. We’ve made progress, we’ve done improvements, but they are getting very old relative to their life. The buildings, the roads, everything needs capital improvements to keep them in good operating and maintenance level. We are facing, in the future, a large amount of renovation, and maybe even replacement, of our facilities that will only come from the capital budget that we have. And that money that goes to the capital budget will only come from the SPLOST collections, in my mind.”
Miller went on to say that he estimated $10 million in needs for the county in the coming 10 years just to keep the buildings and facilities at their current level. He said he didn’t want to wind up in the situation again where the county needed to borrow money or sell bonds. He said the commissioners didn’t have a choice but to maintain the path of maintaining and improving the infrastructure.
The board approved keeping the 1.5 mills, without raising or lowering, through a unanimous vote.
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