Douglas County Board of Commissioners Chairman Tom Worthan., left, and District 4 Commissioner Ann Jones Guider, right, were joined by District 3 Commissioner Mike Mulcare in approving a millage increase that will increase county property taxes by 23.74 percent or about $103 for the average homeowner.  Democrats Henry Mitchell and Kelly Robinson voted against the tax increase. (Mitch Sneed / Douglas County Sentinel)

Despite pleas from 37 speakers and unusually large turnout during three public hearings over the past two weeks, the Board of Commissioners voted to raise property taxes anyway.

County property taxes will go up 23.74 percent after the BOC’s 3-2 vote Tuesday to increase the millage rate from 9.9 mills to 12.25 mills.

The vote was along party lines, with all three Republican commissioners – Chairman Tom Worthan and district commissioners Mike Mulcare and Ann Jones Guider – voting for the tax increase. Democrats Henry Mitchell and Kelly Robinson voted against the tax increase.

Close to 70 people piled into the courthouse for Tuesday’s public hearing and 10 of them spoke. More than 100 people, including 27 speakers, were present during the first two public hearings on July 9.

Winston-resident Roy Sparks told the commissioners Tuesday before the vote that the process reminded him of an old song by Hank Williams, Jr – “It’s all over but the crying.”

“You have the power of the vote today,” Sparks said. “But keep in mind, the power of the vote is going to be back in our hands in the future.”

The BOC had been considering raising the millage rate to 12.9 mills, an increase of nearly 30 percent.

But after public outcry at the first two public hearings, Jennifer Hallman, the county’s finance director, recommended the board go with a millage rate of 12.25 mills.

“We feel like that’s the minimum that we could go in order to maintain this budget,” said Hallman.

Worthan told the Sentinel two weeks ago “we’re taking a look at every expenditure that comes through the courthouse, and we’re going to cut anything that’s not mandatory.”

Retired educator Bill Foster challenged Worthan to name some cuts that were made since the first two public hearings.

Worthan said money had been cut from the contingency fund for emergencies, but didn’t list an amount.

After the meeting, Hallman said $1.7 million had originally been allotted to for the contingency fund, but that had been cut back to about $1 million.

One other item Hallman said was over-budgeted was the amount for utilities at the jail. The county anticipated spending $420,000 more this year because of the move to a larger facility. But Hallman said that number is likely to be closer to $200,000.

She said the estimated $900,000 in savings from the cuts in the contingency fund and jail utilities was put toward lessening the amount of the tax increase.

On the revenue side, Hallman said the county was able to add funds to its balance sheet by changing the projected property tax collection rate from 86 to 89 percent and by using the actual decline in the tax digest of 1.47 percent rather than the 4 percent decline predicted when the 2013 budget was set by the BOC last December.

The end game for homeowners from Tuesday’s vote to raise taxes is a $103.40 increase on a homesteaded home, valued at $125,000. A property owner of a house valued at $125,000 where they do not reside will see a $117.50 increase.

That’s no chump change for the folks that have attended the public hearings and townhalls held by commissioners since the debate started.

Lewis Shaeffer is a former United States Marine who told the commissioners Tuesday he hasn’t had a stable job in three years.

He said the house at the end of his street is renting for more than his mortgage payment.

“I’m about to lose the house,” Shaeffer said. If you raise my taxes, where will I go? If I can’t afford the mortgage, who will I rent from? Or let me say it this way: Which one of the commissioners’ front yards will I camp out in?”

Chris Baggett, a local chiropractor, questioned the county’s spending.

“The problem has to be a spending problem somehow in my mind for us to have to raise it that substantially,” said Baggett.

When it came time to vote, Jones made the motion to adopt the rate of 12.25 mills and Mulcare seconded the motion.

Jones and Mitchell both voted against the budget when it passed last December. That budget was based on a tax increase of 3 mills.

Mitchell was consistent in also voting against the tax increase. He said he would have preferred to put improvements like road resurfacing, improvements to parks and public safety improvements on a bond referendum. That way, he said, if the voters want more services, they could have made that choice knowing there would be a property tax increase associated with it.

Guider had a different explanation for why she voted against the budget but voted for a tax increase.

“I had to take off the budget hat and say OK we’re going to pay our bills,” she said.

Commissioner Kelly Robinson voted for the budget but surprised many when he voted against the increase.

Robinson gave a nine-minute speech at the public hearing where he stressed that one of his main concerns is economic development.

Afterwards, he said he made up his mind during the meeting and that his decision was based on what he sees as too much of the budget going to public safety. About 46 percent of the $90 million budget is spent on public safety.

“It’s about having a more balanced spread of need,” said Robinson. “We’re per capita too heavy in one (area) and we’re light in all of these others. There are other needs in the county.”

(7) comments

James Bell
James Bell

Douglas County Republicans never met a tax they didn't like. They blamed US for not attending the hearings in Dec. I guess they are right. Would you trust a group of children with a jar full of cookies?


So much for republican conservatism in this county! clearly the three republicans don't care about the wishes of the people.

Just me

My response to the increase in taxes will be directly reflected in the next local elections... Mr. Chairman

Carl Pyrdum Jr
Carl Pyrdum Jr

I see that once again the BOC (board of commissioners) has opted to disregard the will of the people and pass a tax increase that is uncalled for, unwarranted and openly opposed by the people. As a resident of Douglas county for thirty years, this is not the first time I have seen this level of arrogant politics practiced in this county.

Aside from Douglas county's history of cronyism, nepotism and the ongoing practices of good old boy politics (continuing to generate outside investigations), it seems that our commission chairman and at least two of our commissioners are dead set to spend money that county taxpayers do not have and then raise taxes to do it.

I remember twenty or so years ago when the county commission suddenly decided that we needed six brand new fire trucks. It seems they had already ordered them, accepted delivery of three and were coming to the taxpayers after the fact with a SPLOST to pay for them. The taxpayers voted it down and the BOC was left to deal with the error of their ways on their own.

Since then, we seem to have acquired a Boundary Waters facility that no one really wanted and few county residents use. We now have a library in the woods that no one wanted and few county residents use and we have hiking trails that once again, no one wanted and few county resident use. But their were federal matching funds to build them!

The common thread of this BOC and their indiscriminate spending seems to center around their admiration of matching federal funds. The feds step up and offer money and our commission cannot seem to say no to matching funds, regardless of whether the county needs it or the residents want it or what surrounding counties are doing. Sidewalks to nowhere are but one more example of the waste that remains rampant in Douglas county.

We have a 100 plus million dollar jail that we did not need and no one wanted, but we have one. We have a one million dollar plus bridge to nowhere on the back of the Blake Gammill building. Yet another shining example of the fiscal irresponsibility of the BOC and their funding decisions.

There is paving equipment the county recently purchased at a cost of over $600,000 to supposedly save money on resurfacing county streets and projects, only to still see our commissioners farming out paving jobs to their favored contractors at a three to one rate while the equipment taxpayers footed the bill for gets minimal use if any use at all.

Two of the three commissioners who voted for this betrayal of county taxpayers are up for re-election next year. The chairman is barely into the first year of his most recent term. However, not one of these elected representatives are either above or beyond being held answerable to the people immediately.

Based upon the BOC voting to tax county residents with taxes that are uncalled for, unneeded, arrogant and wasteful and based upon the BOC refusal to listen to the people (a recurring theme) of Douglas county, perhaps it is time to put forth recall petitions on each of those responsible for this vote.

No, this is not the first time I have seen this level of politics being practiced in this county during my thirty years, but I sincerely look forward to seeing it ended in the very near future. It is time for change in Douglas county and 2014 cannot come soon enough to effect those badly needed changes.

Whether the BOC realized it or not, their re-election campaigns began yesterday with their arrogant votes against the better interests and citizens of Douglas county.

James Bell
James Bell

For future reference previously approve projects and expenditures can not be paid for with SPLOST dollars. The jail land reimbursement from SPLOST violated the law. The problem is the is no way to enforce SPLOST laws.


Wortham, Guider, and Mulcare hope you all enjoy your retirement for office in the next election, people will not forget this.


Oh...thank God this is not Douglas County, CO. I thought the red county fascists here did it again, thankfully it was the red county fascists in Georgia....PHEW!!!!

Douglas County CO, raised the MILLS during housing crisis so that they could collect same amount of taxes as property values went down. Thanks Republicans!!!! freakin worse than drunk sailors on liberty.

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