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Bulloch Local Government

Community expresses support of tax increase for law enforcement

The Statesboro City Council on Thursday held two of the three meetings required by law when proposing a property tax increase and no one was present to speak against the proposal either time.


The Statesboro City Council has been charged with increasing public safety salaries in an effrot to remain competitive after Governor Deal’s 20% pay increase to state law enforcement officers last year. While tax collections have only gone up an estimated $700,000 since 2007, police expenditures have increased by $1.4 million during the same time period. Couple that with the growing population, the council is unable to “do nothing” and provide the same level of services.

One of the hardest hitting issues for the City is the lack of LOST dollars going to the general fund. While most cities and counties collect sales tax on goods sold in the city, Statesboro and Bulloch County both forefeited that money, an estimated $10 million annually, to the Board of Education decades ago. The move cannot be undone.

Additionally, Statesboro’s tax digest has remained, for all intents and purposes, flat. In some years over the last decade, the city has collected less money in property taxes with the millage rate at 6.358. But even as large apartment complexes have erected inside city limits, the tax digest has not grown at the same rate as the population. Mayor Jan Moore told council members Thursday that in the last ten years, Bulloch County’s tax digest has only grown by $36 million, while other areas like Athens-Clarke County have seen a $300,000,000 increase and Lowndes has seen a $500,000,000 increase.

The lack of LOST dollars, the flat tax digest, and the growing number of properties acquired by Georgia Southern (which are tax exempt), means the pool of funds is shallow. Councilman Phil Boyum said the city is also losing money on the properties where churches stand, the federal courthouse, and other government-owned properties. He told the council that the purchase of Campus Courtyard by Georgia Southern took $90,000 a year of property tax revenue off the books for the city.

So without a tax increase, the future of the Statesboro Police Department is unclear. The idea is to increase the millage rate and pledge to dedicate the funds to police salaries. The good news for council members is that the community appears to support the measure.

The 12:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. meetings both drew small crowds but those present were not shy about their support of the increase.

Nick Propps of Statesboro Properties stood before council and said he not only supports an increase, but a maximum increase. He expressed his disappointment that officers stay for a few years and leave after establishing relationships in the community.

Bryan Davis of Hendley Properties said the students and parents of the students he leases to want more law enforcement and more patrol and he fully supports an increase, but would like to see the council explore options for additional ways to collect funds – like a fee – to capture the students and renters who may not be paying property taxes but utilize city services.

A former New York Police Officer-turned Bulloch County resident was also present to speak in favor of the increase.He chatised the council, saying the current pay for officers is “insulting.” He suggested the council find a way to start salaries at no less than $40,000, noting that anything less is just a waste of money as officers will get trained and leave. He also urged them to find a long-term solution to the problems, suggesting a millage rate increase is a band-aid for now.

Bulloch County attorney and Judge Lovett Bennett rose to express his support for the increase as well. “This is an investment. You get what you pay for and we need to pay more. You’ve gotten by on the cheap for a long time. I urge you to find the money, staff adequately, and invest in our police force,” he told council members.

The current millage rate, which has been in place for 10 years, stands at 6.358. It brings in an estimated tax levy of $4,116,384.51 annually. Mayor Jan Moore proposed an increase of one half of a millage point, but the city advertised for a full millage point increase to allow flexibility. If a one point millage rate increase is advertised, the council can adopt a rate of 1 mill or anything less, but nothing more. Had the council only advertised a half of a point, that would be the maximum permitted for adoption without starting the process over again.

Below are the following changes that would occur based on the proposed increases of 0.50, 0.75, and 1.0 mills.

Millage Rate Estimate Tax Levy Approx. Increase in Revenue House Value Assessed Value – 40%
Yearly Bill Increase
Current millage rate 6.358 $4,116,384.51 $100,000 $40,000 $0
.5 mill increase 6.858 $4,440,101.44 $323,716.93 $100,000 $40,000 $20.00
.75 mill increase 7.108 $4,601,959.91 $485,575.40 $100,000 $40,000 $30.00
1.00 mill increase 7.358 $4,763,818.37 $647,433.86 $100,000 $40,000 $40.00

 

Current entry level base salaries for officers at the Statesboro Police Department start at $32,956.00.

To increase the base level salary to $34,603.80 (a $1,647.80 increase or 5% raise), an additional $208,617.24 is needed in the budget.

To increase the base level salary to $35,500 (a $2,544.00 increase or 7.72% raise), an additional $322,105.01 is needed in the budget. This could be covered by the 0.50 point millage rate increase.

To increase the base level salary to $36,521.60 (a $3,295.60 increase or 10% raise), an additional $417,234.47 is needed in the budget. This could be covered by the 0.75 point millage rate increase.

To increase the base level salary to $38,044.00 (a $5,088.00 increase or 15.44% raise), an additional $644,210.03 is needed in the budget. This could be covered by the 1.0 point millage rate increase.

The changes would affect all officers, advanced patrol officers, corporals, and sergeants.

See where Statesboro compares for police salaries:

Regional Police Departments Staring Salary Population
City of Savannah $39,230 136,286
Bloomingdale $38,000 2,717
City of Dublin $36,887 16,104
Effingham County $36,612 57.106
City of Rincon $36,335 9,935
City of Augusta $34,885 201,793
Garden City $34,425 8.778
Port Wentworth $34,254 5,359
Richmond Hill $33,893 9,281
Hinesville $33,721 33,437
Guyton $33,540 1,892
City of Statesboro $32,955 31419**
Pooler $32,299 19,140
Burke County $31,948 22,745
Metter $31,304 4,111
Bulloch Sherrif $30,477 72,651
Waynesboro $30,000 5,766
Georgia Southern $28,917 20,673

**Statesboro does not include GSU student population present for 9 of 12 months

Statesboro also has a lower millage rate comparable to other areas of comparable size (when accounting for the Georgia Southern population):

CITY MILLAGE RATE
Columbus 17.18
Brunswick 13.219
Savannah 12.48
Hinesville 11.51
Waynesboro 11
Waycross 10.995
Rome 10.086
Metter 9.983
Milledgeville 9.12
Valdosta 7.95
Sylvania 7.5
Peachtree City 6.756
Dublin 6.54
Statesboro 6.358
Richmond Hill 4.152
Gainesville 3.86
Pooler 3.849

 

Chief Mike Broadhead told council members Thursday, “I think about it in terms of the market. This isn’t special treatment, all city employees contribute, but this is a market adjustment and we have to stay competitive. The pool of honest, well-trained applicants is not deep and there is no comparison on a law enforcement officer with experience. We want to retain them long enough to integrate in the community and the bottom line is that wage is the first thing people look at.”

Council members have been mum on their officials positions on an increase. Councilman Phil Boyum told members of the council that the problem is the people from outside the city who use city services. “They come to the city, park, run on the trails, and get into a car accident and then call our police,” he said, insinuating those people aren’t helping cover the costs of the police department.

Councilman Sam Jones says he wants to see the increase divided between law enforcement and other services like recreation. He also expressed concern that all city employees, including police officers, just received a raise following the pay study. He said it doesn’t send a good message to other city employees that the council is only looking at a pay raise for a certain segment. He asked City Manager Randy Wetmore to distribute a survey asking other city employees what they think about a raise only for police officers. “I think I can already tell you what it’s going to say,” Wetmore said.

Councilmen John Riggs and Jeff Yawn used the hearings as a time to listen to residents and business owners, saying very little, and Councilman Travis Chance was not present for either meeting.

One public hearing on the proposed increase remains, set for Tuesday, September 5 at 9:00 a.m at City Hall. The council is expected to vote on the proposed increase a the regular meeting after the final hearing on September 5.

Jessica Szilagyi is a former Statewide Contributor for AllOnGeorgia.com.

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