Columbia County commissioners approved a 2007-08 budget Tuesday that makes way for some improvements to county services and a possible tax rate rollback.
The $52.9 million operating budget includes increases for many departments, including more funding for the sheriff's office, the jail, the county's information technology department and recreation.
In addition, the budget was adjusted to allow for about a $1 million rollback of taxes, which is about .29 mills of the county's overall 9.38 millage tax rate. Officials said it would be the first such rollback since 1990.
For the average $100,000 home, the proposed rollback would bring a savings of about $12 a year.
The proposed rollback will have to be approved after rollback hearings set for 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. July 10 and 5:30 p.m. July 17 at the Evans Government Center auditorium.
An overall 15.65 percent increase in the tax digest this year, officials acknowledge, could erase much of the savings of a rollback as higher property values cause homeowners to pay more taxes. Still, commissioners say a rollback is a gesture that reflects the results of more sales tax dollars being collected.
"I think it's a tribute to the citizens," Columbia County Commission Chairman Ron Cross said of how more people are shopping in the county.
Commissioners also praised the smooth process of working with department heads and constitutional officers on this year's budget.
"In the 15 years I've been here, this has been the easiest budget year," Commissioner Diane Ford said.
"I ditto that for my seven years here," Commissioner Tommy Mercer said.
Even with a rollback, the budget offers extra funding for improvements for many departments.
The information technology department will get a 23 percent increase - from $2.6 million last fiscal year to $3.2 million. That added money will partly go to new computer infrastructure that could make it easier for residents to pay for county services online.
Meanwhile, the sheriff's office received a 2.5 percent increase, to $12 million, and the detention center's budgeted expenditures are 5.2 percent higher than a year ago at $7 million. The sheriff's office will add positions for criminal investigations, narcotics, community service and intelligence operations. The jail will get two new workers: one for maintenance, the other for transportation.
Recreation also received an 18.2 percent increase, from $1.6 million last fiscal year to $1.9 million this year.
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