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Commissioners approve Bulloch budget with tax increase
County to schedule another hearing for public input
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            Bulloch County Commissioners unanimously approved a budget Tuesday for fiscal year 2008 that includes a tax increase. Public hearings will be set in July before commissioners vote upon the increase of 1.75 mils – from 8.63 to 10.38 – which translates to about $140 more per year for a property valued at $200,000.

            Bulloch County Manager Tom Couch submitted a budget of $57,755,938, which commissioners approved without comment before a small group of county department heads and other employees. No other citizens attended the meeting.

            After the vote, Commissioner Roy Thompson questioned Couch about the possibility of taxes going up again.

            "If all variables currently hold constant" taxes should not increase for at least three, possibly five years, Couch said.

            Commissioners, department heads and Couch had spent a great deal of time disecting the budget over the past few weeks. Department heads met with commissioners and a public hearing was held June 19 where about 25 citizens attended, some of whom voiced opposition to the tax hike.

            Citizens will be given another opportunity to voice concerns at public hearings yet to be announced, Couch said.

            After dipping into the fund balance to balance the budget without raising taxes for six of the past seven years, Bulloch County was forced to face a tax increase, he said. He briefly reiterated comments he and commissioners have made before regarding the need for a tax increase, and about ways the county has cut spending over the past three years since he has been in his position.

            "I did the best I could," he said before submitting the proposed budget.

            The county still must seek ways to increase revenue and "manage resources wisely," he said.

            However, should another tax increase be necessary, Couch said it won't be the  "shock increase" citizens were dealt through a double strike this year. Property revaluations paired with a tax hike did not sit well with many citizens. On average, Bulloch property owners will pay 44 percent more in county taxes this year.

            Thompson said "I learned never to say 'never.' Nobody wanted to vote yes to that (budget that will require a) tax increase, but it's been proven we had to."

            Couch said he gave "credit and respect" to the commissioners. "You haven't run away from anything and you haven't stuck your heads in the sand." He commended department heads as well for working hard to cut back.

            The budget and pending tax increase aren't cure-alls, said Commission Chairman Garrett Nevil.

            "We're going to continue to tighten the string everywhere we can," he said. "It's not all behind us. We're still going to be looking ahead."

            In other business Tuesday, commissioners approved a bid from Riggs Pharmacy for inmate drug needs, which involve 20 percent name-brand medicines, 75 percent generic drugs and 20 percent over-the-counter items. Riggs Pharmacy offered the highest overall discount, Couch said.

            Commissioners also approved a move to appoint Deborah Walker, Billy Allen and Paul Roesel to the Development Authority and to hire accounting firm Thigpen, Lanier, Westerfield and Deal to perform an audit on Splash in the 'Boro.

            The water park is one of many departments that will be audited, Couch said.

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