MOULTRIE — As Colquitt County Commission formulates its next budget, it will have to weigh recommendations on an employee pay increase, significant road equipment purchases and a small rise in taxes.

The $21.66 million spending plan proposed by County Administrator Chas Cannon includes a 3 percent across-the-board cost of living adjustment and 0.2-mill increase in the tax rate, include spending up to $300,000 in reserve funds.

The pay increase would cost about $345,000 out of the county’s general fund and about another $30,000 to $40,000 out of other accounts, Wayne Putnal, county finance director, said during a telephone interview on Friday. The Solid Waste Department pay increases would not come from sales taxes but from that department’s garbage fees, and part of 911 raises would come from fees that telephone customers pay on their bills.

Another difficult issue faced in the budget process is a state recommendation to even up the sales tax rates for unincorporated residents. Because of a change to the way rates are computed (made some years ago) the rate for taxpayers in unincorporated Colquitt County are about 1.5 mills below the rate they should be taxed to be on par with taxpayers in the county’s cities, the Georgia Department of Revenue has told the county.

The issue is a complicated one, Colquitt County Tax Commissioner Cindy Harvin said, but basically it boils down to setting an initial gross millage rate that is different for unincorporated residents and those who live in incorporated areas. The same gross rate should have been established for both before applying an insurance rollback that is credited to those in unincorporated Colquitt County and a sales tax exemption that applies to school taxes.

That had not been the method followed in the past, and it predates Putnal’s hiring, Harvin and Putnal said.

“The way I look at it is unincorporated (residents) should have been a little higher in the past,” Harvin said during a telephone interview on Friday. “They need to start with a gross rate that is the same for both incorporated and unincorporated.”

If the full 1.5 mills is added to taxpayers in unincorporated areas, they would pay an extra $60 on the average residential property of $100,000 or an additional $51 on an average non-residential property of $75,000 in value.

“I’m assuming it is,” Putnal said of whether the entire 1.5 mills would hit taxpayers when property taxes come due in December. “It depends on what commissioners decide to do. They (Department of Revenue) want us to correct it. They are instructing us to correct it.”

If the 0.2-mill tax increase is approved, that would add another $8 to the bills of all residents for each $100,000 worth of property taxed.

Part of the reason staff recommended the increase is because the county has seen both sales tax and property tax collections drop by about 10 percent, County Administrator Chas Cannon said.

The cost of living increase is needed because the county has been having a hard time in replacing departing workers and because those departures have been significant in recent years, Cannon said. In the past five years, two-thirds of the county’s work force has turned over, which in itself takes county resources to advertise and fill those positions.

While the sheriff’s office, county prison and Roads and Bridges Department have been among the areas with the highest turnover, it has hit all departments, Putnal said. In finance, for example, he said he is the only person left from the time he came on board in 2008. County employees have not had a raise since before that time, although commissioners did give each employee a $1,000 bonus a couple of years.

The spending plan prepared for commissioners includes $533,775 in capital purchases in the Roads and Bridges Department.

That includes a motor grader with sloper at $160,450, tractor with boom mower at $126,500, $170,500 for an excavator, $73,200 each for a mini-excavator and backhoe and trailer package, an asphalt recycler at $99,000, two dump trucks for a total of $260,000 and other heavy equipment and truck purchases.

In previous years, commissioners dealing with declining revenues caused with the severe recession that began in 2007 zeroed out purchases of big equipment.

The county has the 17th largest network of county-maintained roadways in the state — more than 550 miles of paved roads and about 350 miles of dirt roads — Putnal said.

“Between patching, mowing, scraping, spraying, it takes a lot of work,” he said. “There are about 900 miles of county-maintained roads.”

Another way that the roads department is trying to be more efficient is by replacing inmate machinery operators with paid employees. That would include a full-time worker and temp worker in the two-person crews.

Because of the time it takes to transport inmates to job sites, the limits on the time they can work and other considerations, the amount of time they can spend on the job is perhaps five hours a day in some cases, officials said.

“A lot of what we’re trying to do is improve efficiency,” Cannon said. “Driving several miles to pick up and drop off inmates is not efficient. We can find the correct slots for inmates.”

Inmates will continue to perform work that requires a great deal of manual labor, such as road cleanup, demolition, and in performing janitorial work at county buildings, Cannon said.

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