With residents of the city of Brunswick no longer paying a tax to support the Glynn County Police Department, the county is looking at options to compensate for the loss.
Glynn County Manager Alan Ours broached the subject Thursday’s at the Glynn County Commission planning retreat.
At some point in the past, when deciding which government entities would offer which services, the city of Brunswick and the county decided to levy a countywide tax to pay for the county’s police department, Ours explained.
“Last year we were talking to the city about updating the service delivery strategy and they said ‘Hey guys, we’re not OK with countywide millage paying for county police anymore.’ Since then, we’ve been working from a staff standpoint to create a special tax district for county police,” Ours said. “Right now, based on our analysis, we’re about $700,000 apart.”
To make up that difference, he recommended the county commission establish a tax district similar to the fire tax. The new police tax would not increase residents’ overall property taxes, he said. He proposed the commission decrease its base millage rate to compensate.
“Why this wasn’t done a long time ago I don’t know, but professionally I think it’s the right thing to do,” Our said.
He also said the commission could consider imposing the fire tax on tax district 2, creating a countywide police and fire millage rate.
“One of the things I’d like to ask you to consider is, No. 1, whether or not we should apply the fire tax millage to the people in tax district 2. No. 2, if the answer to that is yes, we would propose to create the county police and fire district that’s combined. There’s a lot of advantages to that,” Ours said.
Glynn County is composed of six tax districts, designated in county documents as District 1, the city of Brunswick; District 2, outlying areas of the county; District 3, the Ballard area and Blythe Island; District 4, St. Simons Island; District 5, Sea Island; and District 6, Jekyll Island. They are different from the districts used for commission and school board representation.
Each district pays at least three of six millage rates: state, county, city, county maintenance and operations, school maintenance and operations, capital projects and fire. Sea Islands residents also pay a special police millage.
Commission Chairman Mike Browning opposed the idea of imposing the fire millage on tax District 2. His district — commission District 1 — mostly covers tax District 2. Residents of the outlying area of the county don’t get effective fire service and should not have to pay the fire tax, he said.
“Even if they respond, your house is probably going to be burned down by the time they get there,” Browning said.
To back it up, he noted the Insurance Service Office rating of the area and the high fire insurance rates for those who live there. Commissioner Bob Coleman, an insurance agent, said that once you get further than five miles from a fire station and 1,000 feet from a fire hydrant, the risk to homes becomes such that insurance rates are much higher.
“If you want to give these folks the same kind of service, if you want to charge them, you go out there and you build fire stations and you staff them and you put the equipment in them,” Browning said.
Commissioner Peter Murphy said the commission should at least consider the idea.
“I would prefer some factual analysis rather than sort of the sense that it’s ‘This is what we’ve been told,’” Murphy said. “I think there’s some justification. If there really is significant growth out there, do we need to put a fire station out there? But short of that, what is the service delivery like out there? Are houses burning down because we didn’t get there in time?”
Murphy said he wanted to further discuss the issue sooner rather than later, given the impending fiscal year 2019-2020 budget discussions.
In other business, commissioners also discussed planning for a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax 2020.
Ours presented the commissioners with a list of potential projects to narrow down and Glynn County Attorney Aaron Mumford gave them a timeframe for preparing a list and getting a referendum on the ballot in 2020.
A SPLOST referendum could be on the ballot in the presidential preference primary in March 2020, the general primary in May 2020 or the general election in November 2020. Mumford said the commission should start the process of initiating the referendum around six months before whichever election it picks.
The commission also talked about 2019-2020 budget considerations and milestones in its strategic plan, among other things.