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Commissioners raise questions about proposed ACC budget

District 4 Commissioner Allison Wright
ACC Government
District 4 Commissioner Allison Wright questioned whether the county could reduce the property tax rate beyond the half mil proposed in the tentative budget.

Athens-Clarke County Commissioners raised concerns about some details in Mayor Kelly Girtz’s proposed budget at a work session on Tuesday.

Girtz’s budget proposal has been in front of Commissioners for a couple of weeks, but Tuesday’s work session was the first opportunity for commissioners to weigh in at a public meeting.

Some commissioners had questions about a proposed reduction in the county’s property tax rate, and whether the budget could sustain a greater cut, given the skyrocketing value of most property in Athens.

"I do believe that we could do a higher millage rate reduction," said District 4 Commissioner Allison Wright. "For those of us who've already gotten our property tax assessments, it's shocking."

That was a sentiment echoed by District 10’s Mike Hamby.

You look at the revenue generated from from property taxes this year, people have gotten their assessments and I've already gotten a few phone calls on it," Hamby said. "So I'd like to see what's possible with increasing [the millage rate reduction] based on the large increase of 19% in our tax digest this year."

Commissioners also asked about salary increases for Athens Regional Library staff. While most county employees will see pay hikes under the budget proposal, library employees are paid in part by the state. That complicates including library staff in the countywide $15 per hour minimum wage. But, addressing library employee pay seemed to be a priority for some commissioners, like District 5’s Tim Denson.

"We've been talking so much about spending a lot of money and resources on youth services, on mental health supports." Denson told colleagues. "Our libraries do all those things. It's one of the most efficient and effective ways to meet so many different needs, and so I think it's definitely worthwhile for us to fully fund the requests of those employees, and I do completely understand that a lot of this is because of the state not fully funding the libraries where they should be when it comes to salaries, and I wish that we didn't have to step up locally to fill that gap."

Denson also expressed skepticism about a police cadet program for Athens youths. That program was championed by Mayor Girtz in last year’s budget, but commissioners cut it from the final plan. Hamby was also unsure about supporting the program.

"I'm hard pressed to see spending general fund dollars for that," Hamby said. "Maybe some of the [American Rescue Plan Act] youth development dollars or something of that sort is perhaps a better source of where those revenues can come from, and it's probably a worthwhile program, but I'm just not certain that now is the time to do that."

The public will have an opportunity to comment on the proposed budget at three upcoming public meetings. The first is on Thursday at 5:30 pm at the Dougherty Street Government Building.

Martin Matheny is WUGA's Program Director and a host and producer of our local news program 'Athens News Matters.' He started at WUGA in 2012 as a part-time classical music host and still hosts WUGA's longest-running local program 'Night Music' which is heard on WUGA and GPB Classical. He lives in Normaltown with his wife, Shaye and dog, Murphy.
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