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Residents balk at proposed tax increase
Suggest cutting services instead
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Forsyth County News

Forsyth County residents at a millage rate hearing Thursday morning asked commissioners to cut services and the budget instead of raising taxes.

The commission has advertised a 1.48 mill increase in the 2011 millage rate, which would cover the $13.3 million shortfall in the projected $93.6 million budget.

Commissioners have said at several budget work sessions that they don't anticipate approving the requested budget or the tax increase advertised.

Most recently, the commission estimated a 1.15 to 1.25 mill overall tax increase in 2011.

The hearing was the first of two planned for Thursday. Ten of the 11 speakers in the morning pleaded with the commissioners not to raise taxes.

"If times are tough, you just do without things until you can afford them," Aron Hendrix said.

Cleve Chadwick advised the county that it should operate more like a business, which would go bankrupt if it didn't cut its own expenses.

"If you keep reaching in my pocket," he said, "then I'm bankrupt too."

Several residents shared personal stories of economic hardships, but none sounded more emotional than Ann Bright.

She described her husband's health, family's job losses and a neighborhood full of struggling single mothers.

"Now, we don't have any money to spare," she said. "You people are making decisions for us ... All I have is my voice, and I'm angry."

Bill Barnett said a tax increase wouldn't just hurt businesses and large landowners, but all homeowners. He asked commissioners to cut the budget anywhere possible.

He likened the county's budget to a Lincoln Continental, when he said it should be more like a Ford Fusion.

Many residents brought up past spending by the county as examples of purchases they felt were unnecessary.

Charles Turner, a former local volunteer firefighter, said he's watched the department's new "Taj Mahals" go up, referring to new stations.

"This is unreal the money that we are spending," he said.

Several residents cited as bad investments the green space and parks bought under a 2008 voter-approved bond referendum.

"Why would we even be worried about parks when our economy is in such a terrible state?" Larry Oscar asked.

Just one speaker, former Commissioner Julian Bowen, advised "small increases" as a possibility, stating he suggested a quarter or a third of a mill hike in 2009.

Bowen mentioned the county's health care plan as a potential place to cut costs, as well as delaying the opening of Fowler Park in January.

Chairman Charles Laughinghouse thanked all the speakers.

"We have listened to your comments and we'll take them under advisement as we go forward," he said.

Commissioners are scheduled to adopt a millage rate July 22 after a final tax hearing. However, they have until December to approve the 2011 budget.