For taxpayers in Dawson County, the worst appears to be over, but funding for the sheriff and fire departments, raises for county employees, and new staffers are limited in the near future.
Dawson County Commission Chair, Mike Berg, gave his annual state-of-the- county address Jan. 27 at the Bowen Art Center, headquarters for the Dawson County Republican Party.
Approximately 30 people attended.
Over the past five years, property taxes had gone down some 36 percent, Berg said. Weve had to operate on about $3.6 million less than what we had before.
The good news for Dawson County government is in 2014, approximately $700,000 in additional property taxes were collected.
Berg expects another $750,000 to be added to that for 2015 if the economy continues to improve.
And, the short-term good news for taxpayers is property valuations have settled down.
The tax base will probably stay settled for the next year or two, but as things increase, valuations change, and that will dictate what those property taxes are.
Dawson is one of only five counties in the state that operates more off sales tax and other taxes than property taxes.
It is pretty neat compared to other counties around us, he said. There are counties where 80 percent of their budget is based on property taxes. Thats pretty tough. Were lucky we have the 400 corridor to pull from.
In 2014, Dawson Countys budget was $20.8 million. In 2015, the approved budget is $21.6, a $700,000 increase.
This year, we had requests from department heads for 32 employees and $1.5 million over what we have now, Berg said. From those requests, the board (of commissioners) approved two full-time, and two part-time positions.
So, you can see there is a big gap between what we need and what we can do. The gap is so big the sheriffs department and the board of commissioners in 2014 each hired attorneys, at taxpayer expense, to help work through the situation. To date, neither group has filed a lawsuit, although Steven Leibel, the attorney for Sheriff Billy Carlisle, presented the sheriff de- partments budget to the commissioners prior to their vote.
The board and I are are working to make sure we try to satisfy his (Sheriff Billy Carlisles) requests, as best we can, within the dollars weve collected.
SPLOST 6 FUNDS
In 2014, Dawson County voters approved its sixth Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST), which will add approximately $46 million over the next six years, to the countys coffers.
Carlisle has asked that salary increases be paid with dollars currently in the budget, and that his departments request for 11 vehicles be funded with SPLOST money.
We are not pre-funding anything, Berg said. Its pay as you. The board of commissioners will make decisions on what gets paid first as we move through the next six years. The county manager and department heads will start putting together lists to see which needs comes first.
Information technology is also at the top of countys list.
Last year, a county server was hacked, and while no data was comprised, according to County Manager Cindy Campbell, it highlights the need for improvements.
I.T. has become a pretty big issue for us, Berg said. Weve got to replace some servers. Every time we turn around Microsoft says we need to upgrade. Keeping up with that has been pretty difficult.
GROWTH IN DAWSON
Approximately 350 jobs and $90 million in construction is expected in the county during the next two years. Two large commercial developments are taking place at the intersection of Ga. 400 and Dawson Forest Road, adjacent to the North Georgia Premium Outlet Mall.
This is a great thing for our tax base, Berg said, because we have a good land use plan, we know what goes in which place. Business stays in the business corridor, residential in those areas, and farming in the farming areas.
Two engineering firms are scheduled to open their doors in Dawson, MESH Engineering will be located on Carlisle Road, and a second unnamed engineering and manufacturing firm is looking at the old Nordson building.
Construction of a $12.5 continuous flow intersection, a first in the state, is scheduled to begin this month at the intersection of Ga. 400 and Highway 53.
It beats the heck out the $136 million over and under pass that was once proposed, Berg said. But it will mean some traffic is- sues.
GDOT officials have stated there will be no road closures and the intersection will be open during construction.
Other road projects that have been postponed due to federal funding issues include: roundabouts at Highways 52 and 183, and Highways 136 and 183, and a possible third round- about at Highways 9 and Dawson Forest Road. In addition, new bridges over the Etowah River at Highway 9 and at Highway 136 have been postponed. Legislators are considering an increased gas tax, among other things, to help pay for road projects across the state.
Lawmakers are also floating a bill that would require separate lawyers for the defense of juveniles.
We would have to get separate lawyers for each juvenile, so if theres four kids involved in something, wed have to pay for four attorneys, Berg said. Were watching that very care- fully.