During the second Cartersville-Bartow County Chamber of Commerce quarterly luncheon Monday morning, Taylor laid out his rationale for raising the millage rate to 9.68 mills in unincorporated areas and 10.97 in incorporated areas. The increases, he stressed, were 25 percent of the millage rate and not a 25 percent increase to citizens’ overall tax bill. The 2012 millage rates were 7.73 and 9.05, respectively, for the two areas, as the commissioner pointed out in an accompanying PowerPoint presentation.
Overall, he continued, the tax bill is increasing by 6.5 to 7.4 percent.
However, he said Bartow County still has one of the lowest millage rates in northwest Georgia, excluding Whitfield County.
“They do have the lowest in north Georgia, I think, but their county is half the size in geography as Bartow County, and the city of Dalton provides most of their services,” Taylor said. “They have four or five fire stations; we have 14 fire stations. So we didn’t feel like Whitfield County was a good comparison, so we just chose not to use them.”
Taylor delved further into the budget as he explained public safety comprised 50 percent of the budget, with the percentages getting smaller from general government, to public works, to health and welfare and finally to planning and community development’s 3 percent. There was nothing left to cut, he said.
“We’re trying to make the county as attractive as we can where you’ll get the most for your tax dollar, and we’ll always — always — be diligent in looking after your tax dollar,” Taylor said. “I was in business for 35 years, and I know what it means to get the tax bills in the fall and you’re looking at it and thinking, ‘Gosh, what are they doing with all this money?’
“Well, I can promise you that we squeezed every drop out of the turnip as far as taxes go.”
After exploring the budget, Taylor moved on to the revenue losses the county experienced. During the recession, he said, sales tax revenues declined, the value of local properties declined and utility sales tax revenues dropped. The latter was “a big chunk of revenue,” Taylor said, as the utility revenues fell from $10.2 million in 2010 to a predicted $4.6 million in 2013.
Worsening the situation, he continued, as the tax digest lost value the millage rate declined and then stayed flat throughout the recession. Taylor credited former Commissioner Clarence Brown for his personnel reductions, putting off equipment purchases and cutting spending, but continuing those policies was not possible as the recession continued.
“The millage rate has been falling at the same time the tax digest has been falling. That’s, folks, that’s tough when your millage rate falls down and the tax digest falls because our values are not only going down, but the millage rate is slipping at the same time,” Taylor said.
According to a slide in the commissioner’s presentation, the last tax increase in Bartow County was in 2005.
Taylor then looked forward to the employment and investment opportunities coming to the county. The Toyo Tire plant expansion, the development at the Highland 75 industrial park with voestalpine and the LakePoint Sporting Complex & Town Center construction were a few of the examples he used to highlight the possibilities of growing Bartow’s economy.
“I’d venture to say that Bartow County has more projects, active, right now, people looking at our community, than just about anybody I know. I’m just basing that on the folks I hear at different communities and different county commissioners,” he said. “It’s amazing at the potential we have in Bartow County. We should be so grateful of where we’re sitting and the position we’re in going forward.”
Taylor’s speech was part of a chamber of commerce program designed to gather local business owners and government officials for networking and leadership opportunities. After a lunch catered by Johnny Mitchell’s Smokehouse, and the presentation of the colors by the Bartow County Sheriff’s Office, Taylor gave his address. At the end, he awarded local leaders of the faith-based community for their efforts during the Adairsville tornado recovery earlier this year.
“The county once again demonstrated its true character,” Taylor said of the days after the Jan. 30 tornado struck. “We’re still a close-knit community of family and friends that pull together and help our fellow man in need. I’m extremely proud to say that I’m from Bartow County.”
Doug Harris, David Franklin, Mike Abernathy and Ken Coomer were all awarded for their recovery work.
Chamber President Joe Frank Harris Jr. ended the luncheon with an appeal to chamber members. He asked them to take an application form and give it to a business that has not yet joined the organization. With 893 members, he said he was ready to celebrate the next milestone and hit 900.
Chamber Chairman Wayne Moore, after the luncheon ended, looked forward to the next one, which will have former Georgia Bulldogs coach Vince Dooley as its featured speaker.
“It really has taken on a life of its own and everyone is enjoying it. ... We’re accomplishing what we want to accomplish with our speakers talking about county and our city, having Coach Dooley coming in November to speak,” he said.
Parnick Jennings, who is on the luncheon’s organization committee, said they were already looking on a larger level for guest speakers. Among the invitees are Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and investor Warren Buffet.
Taylor, though, was glad to have the chance to provide an overview of the county’s current situation, as monthly meetings often provide focus only on single issues.
“Of course we have public meetings, as you know, every month, so that’s another way for people to come out. But a lot of times in public meetings the business community, like the chamber folks for instance, don’t come necessarily to the public meetings. They’re busy with their own business. So it’s good to have a meeting once a year where everybody can get together [who] wants to come and be informed as far as the financial situation in Bartow and what’s coming in the future,” he said.
With 400 guests, and more than 100 who they had to turn away, chamber leaders were pleased as well.
“Unbelievably pleased,” said Harris. “This has just been an awesome turnout for their second event, to sell it out and have this many people excited about the Bartow County community, it’s just fabulous.
“... It’s good to get together and eyeball your friends and neighbors. ... I think sometimes in our day of Facebook, which is great and has a great role, it’s good to have somewhere where you can eat lunch with somebody, work on your relationship, build friendships and I think that’s what’s getting us so excited. It’s exceeded our expectations, it really has.”
The next chamber of commerce quarterly luncheon is scheduled for Nov. 18.