Forsyth County Commissioners took a step this week in approving the 2021 budget, which has been affected by the COVID-19 outbreak and response.
At a regular meeting on Friday, commissioners got a preliminary look at the 2021 budget and voted to approve a tentative millage rate for 2021 of 7.896 mills, broken down by the following:
- 4.731 mills for maintenance and operating millage rate;
- 2.175 mills for the fire district rate;
- 0.93 mills for the general obligation bond rate.
The new millage rate comes down from 7.936 mills in 2020 due to a reduction in the bond rate.
The millage rate is the formula that calculates property taxes. One mill equals $1 for every $1,000 in assessed property value, which is 40 percent of the actual market value. The total millage rate is made up of the county’s rate and the school system’s rate, which was 19.718 mills in 2019 and 2020.
“Our [finance] committee, we’ve met several times. [District 1 Commissioner Molly Cooper, District 2 Commissioner Dennis Brown] and myself are on it, and from the outset, we’ve been very conservative,” said District 4 Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills. “We’ve really tried and staff has worked with us to try to get it because we’re afraid of what this would mean and what the sales tax would do. Out county is faring far better than statewide on sales tax.”
Dave Gruen, the county’s chief financial officer, said April’s sales tax collections were down 3.28% compared to the previous year. Other counties around metro Atlanta were seeing an 11% reduction, Gruen said.
Cooper credited county employees for also doing their part to reduce the budget in an uncertain year.
“We have gone through this budget with a fine-toothed comb, and whenever staff came in, departments came in, so often they themselves were offering cuts in their budget,” she said.
Both Mills and Cooper said they were not sure what impact the state’s 11% budget cut would have on the county.
As proposed, the county’s 2021 general fund would total about $151.7 million in revenues and $148.5 million in expenditures, which would leave about $3.2 million in available funds. The 2020 budget was balanced at $150 million.
The fire fund is expected to have about $29.3 million in total revenues and $28.7 million in expenditures.
Gruen said another $579,000 from the general fund could come from a tax digest adjustment for a total savings of about $3.8 million. The current budget forecasts sales tax revenues to decrease by 5% for the year, but Gruen said a10% reduction would reduce revenues by about $2.8 million.
Responding to a question from Mills, Mary Kirkpatrick, director of the county’s tax assessors’ office, said she did not expect higher assessments for commercial properties, as had been the case in 2020.
“This past year was primarily catching up and looking at subdivisions and areas that the market had increased enough that required us to reassess where we were falling out of the approval parameters, and we did not do anything major during this year,” Kirkpatrick said.
The next steps in the budget will be first and second public hearings on the millage rate on Thursday, July 9 at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. and a third public hearing on the millage rate at 6 p.m. on Thursday, July 23 before the millage rate can be adopted at 6:30 p.m.
After that, the plan is for commissioners to hear a presentation on the budget on Tuesday, Aug. 11, a public hearing on the budget on Thursday, Aug. 20 and adoption of the budget on Thursday, Sept. 3.
Gruen said the county can push the approval later as more information becomes available and might go “as late as November.”
The 2021 budget proposal includes 26 new positions funded through the county’s general fund at the current service level, three new positions in the general fund at a revised service level, two new positions from the fire fund at a revised service level, a 2% salary adjustment for county employees and capital items at the current budget level.