CAIRO — Grady County commissioners voted to implement a millage rate increase Tuesday morning, but before the day was over it was off the table.
The commissioners were attempting to hedge against the potential failure of the special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) vote later this year by increasing the millage rate by 4.75 mills, but tax commissioner Barbara Darus said any such increase could wait until after the November 5 referendum.
With three commissioners still on hand inside the Grady County Courthouse, a consensus vote was quickly held to withdraw the 4.75 increase.
"We're back to square one as far as the millage rate goes," said County Administrator Buddy Johnson.
Tuesday's consensus vote must be ratified by the full Board of Commissioners at a later meeting.
If voters reject the SPLOST, an increase of 2.75 mills would cover the county's remaining financial obligations, but it wouldn't get them completely out of the hole.
"That'll cut your bleeding, but you can't live on the fund balance for much longer," Johnson told the commissioners.
The county still has several projects on its to-do list that are expected to cost more than $1 million. They include the purchase of a new fire truck and ambulance and paving State Park Road, and would require an additional 2 mill increase to cover.
Commissioner Phillip Drew said if the millage rate had to go up, then it needed to be done right the first time.
"We've got to bite a bullet somewhere, somehow," Drew said. "There have been too many Band-Aids on here and now we've got to sew up the wound."
Drew's motion for a 4.75 mill increase carried 3-1. Commissioner June Knight opposed the motion, and commission chair LaFaye Copeland was not present for the vote.
Less than an hour later, the action was moot.
The vote came at the conclusion of a workshop for the fiscal year 2020 budget.
In reviewing the budget, Johnson said the county has a healthy fund balance. He believes the commissioners will have a better cash flow in 2020 due to budget cuts, but there's still ground that needs to be made up even if the SPLOST passes so the county can start working on some much-needed projects.
That means residents could still expect a millage increase later this year.
"I would expect to see a millage increase not more than 2 mills at this point," Johnson said. "That's provided we get the SPLOST."
Elected officials have stressed that the county could be in a financial pickle if voters reject the SPLOST later this year. They say the SPLOST does not represent a new tax, but rather the continuation of an existing SPLOST that voters approved in 2014.
If approved, the new SPLOST is estimated to generate $18 million in revenue across six years.