CAIRO — Grady County commissioners formally approved a 2 mill property tax increase Thursday morning by a 3-2 vote.
Eighty-four percent of voters approved the special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) earlier this week, which allowed for some relief to the originally advertised increase of 4.75 mills, County Administrator Buddy Johnson said. The SPLOST is estimated to generate $1.5 million for the county each year, roughly equal to the value of 3 mills.
Johnson said the SPLOST's passage, however, has been the only positive development for the county's financial situation, which he described as an "emergency budgetary crisis" that will require increased revenues in order to solve.
According to Johnson, the county's available cash balance will be depleted by 2021 if something is not done to increase revenue flows.
Commissioner Phillip Drew motioned for a 2 mill increase and was joined by colleagues Keith Moye and Ray Prince.
With the increase in place and the SPLOST set to be renewed next spring, the county can now turn its attention to a laundry list of projects which Johnson said must be completed in order to return to sound footing.
Chief among the county's priorities this fiscal year is replacing outdated equipment for several county departments that Johnson said are in "dire need" of updating.
Road department equipment is "extremely" outdated and is costing the county a large amount of money for repairs and maintenance, Johnson said. In addition, the county administrator said both emergency medical services and the fire department are in need new vehicles to replace older equipment. The sheriff's office and jail have also requested more than $500,000 in capital asset needs, personnel and equipment that they have deemed necessary for public safety.
Voting in opposition to the mil increase were commissioners June Knight and LaFaye Copeland, who stated beforehand that she was against the tax increase, even if it was at a lower rate than what was initially considered.
"Our administrator is chewing the fat as much as he can," Copeland said in reference to Johnson, "but I strongly believe we can chew the fat just a tad more."
Copeland said she had promised her constituents last year not to vote for a tax increase, in part due to the impact of Hurricane Michael.
When combined with an EF2 tornado that hit Cairo in March, Copeland said many of the residents in her district are struggling just to get by.
"Some are not able to even fix their homes," she said. "When you're coming up on (Highway) 111 and you look over, it looks like a ghost town."
Had the SPLOST been rejected, Copeland said she might have considered voting for a smaller millage rate increase, but nothing as high as the 4.75 proposal that was on the table.
In any case, Copeland said she never doubted that the SPLOST would pass easily.
Copeland said she was not attempting to persuade the commissioners with her statement, but rather to let residents know that she felt their frustrations.
"I can't afford the millage rate, but if it passes I have to pay taxes just like you all do," she said. "That doesn't mean I'm happy with it, but the majority rules."