Debbie Jacobs, county clerk and chief financial officer, said she believed commissioners would have to raise the millage rate to make the $981,000 payment on the Rabun Business Park. She said that payment last year was $490,000.
“It’s my personal opinion the mil rate is going to have to go up,” Jacobs said. “Mainly to pay for the business park.”
Jacobs said it would be the county’s first tax increase since 2002.
Commissioner Stephen Arbitter said the business park would need to have about an 80 percent occupancy rate to be self-sustaining. Jacobs said last year the total earnings from the business park totaled about $167,000.
“There’s still time to adjust things here and there,” Arbitter said “A lot depends on getting businesses into the business park.”
Four years after Fruit of the Loom closed its doors in August 2006, leaving about 900 people jobless, the county bought the 1 million square foot building in hopes of attracting new businesses. It has been renovated and renamed Rabun Business Park
Ray Coulombe, executive director of the Rabun County Development Authority, said Gap Partners Inc. is the primary tenant. Earnings from its tenancy have been delayed due to a six month period of reduced rent that was guaranteed as an incentive to keep the company in Rabun County.
Though an increase in the millage rate may seem inevitable, Arbitter said he did not think it would be much. Instead, he said he believed the county would fund the fiscal year 2015 budget through a combination of cutting the current budget as much as possible, dipping into the county’s reserve fund and raising the millage rate.
He added that each tactic came with its own caveats.
“There’s literally three ways you can adjust the budget,” Arbitter said. “Cut: it’s been cut for four years. From fund balance, and we have fund balance in place, but I don’t like to take from future commissions to make my time easier. Or you can raise the millage rate.
“We’re probably doing a little bit of all three,” he added.
Commissioner Jimmy Loudermilk agreed with Arbitter and Jacobs that the county would need to increase the millage rate.
“Overall we have no other choice,” Loudermilk said.
Coulombe said the authority was in the midst of an aggressive marketing campaign and there was little else that could be done with the current marketing budget. Robert Pittman, authority vice chairman, said he felt a larger budget that could facilitate stronger marketing campaigns would make the difference in how quickly the business park could be filled.
“The commissioners have provided us very kindly and that would be adequate for the county if we did not have so much space,” Pittman said. “Because we have so much space to move, we need to do more marketing and we need to consider some advertising in Atlanta and in some national publications.”
Pittman added that he believed tenants would move into the business park, but without extreme measures the time frame for full occupancy would be longer.
Though the tax increase burden will be spread across the economic spectrum, Jacobs said she believed county employees had been particularly affected by the debt on the business park. She said county employees have not received a cost-of-living raise or a meritorious raise in six or seven years.
“The employees are the ones footing the bill,” Jacobs said.
Sheriff Frank Andrews told commissioners he had lost four deputies within the last year to other law enforcement agencies in the area that could afford to pay them more with better benefits.
Andrews said Clayton was able to offer its police officers $3 more per road hour than the sheriff’s office.
Hoping to combat the slow, steady turnover of his department, Andrews asked commissioners for an additional $48,000 to be distributed among employees.
Loudermilk said road department deputies also had been leaving with some level of frequency to pursue other career opportunities that offered a better salary and benefits.
Commissioners will hold their next budget meeting at 4:30 p.m., today, in the courthouse.Blake Spunrey/The Clayton Tribune
Merrie Queen, left, gives instruction to Kessiah Gipson, incoming Clayton Municipal Court clerk and administrative officer. Queen just completed 20 years with the city and is retiring from full-time duty.