CAIRO — Grady County Administrator Buddy Johnson said a proposed millage rate increase would have to go into effect if voters reject the special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) that will be on their November ballots.

“I am not advocating that we are going to raise our millage rate,” Johnson said. “What I am saying is the county has to pass either the SPLOST or we will have to raise the millage rate. One or the other has got to happen.”

Johnson could not provide a precise figure for what the hypothetical rate increase could be if it went into effect, but estimated a minimum of three mills.

With the county having to pay bonds related to the operation of Tired Creek Lake one way or another, Johnson said there has to be a contingency plan in place to protect against the possibility of the SPLOST being rejected by voters.

“You can always roll it back, but you can’t roll it forward, so we have to put it in place prior to the billing going out,” Johnson said.

Should the SPLOST pass, as the county administrator believes it will, the rate increase would be eliminated before it could go into effect.

If the SPLOST were to fail, Johnson said the county would need to find another way to raise the revenue required to meet the needs of the lake bonds, and a millage rate increase would act as their fail-safe option.

“I have to hedge one against the other,” the county administrator said. “It’s a fall-back plan.”

The previous county administration did not place the SPLOST on the ballot in 2018, which pushed Johnson to do so this year in the last possible opportunity for renewal before its expiration next March.

“If they had voted the SPLOST in last year, we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” Johnson said. “I would already have the money in place and I could bank on it, but in budgeting, you can’t bank on a gamble.”

Voters will decide whether to approve the six-year SPLOST in a referendum set for November 5, but in the meantime the county’s tax bills must be sent out in October.

To compensate for the time discrepancy, the county plans to delay sending out their tax bill until after the November election.

Johnson said the county can’t mail its bills prior to the SPLOST because otherwise they would be stuck with what they sent out.

“The bottom line is we can’t bill based on what we hope happens,” Johnson said. “We have to bill on what we know.”

County officials have stressed that the SPLOST is not a new tax, but a continuation of a 2014 voter-approved resolution that would not increase what residents already pay.

Johnson said he did not hope to see the millage rate increase and that there was one way everyone could prevent it from going into effect.

“Pass the SPLOST,” the county administrator said.