SDS agreement includes road tax, McDonough fire tax

Photo of filled pothole on New Morn Drive with grass and a fence in the background (special photo)

Henry County commissioners held a special called meeting on Tuesday, December 29, to adopt the latest revisions to the service delivery strategy (SDS) agreement. State law requires each county and its municipalities to enter into an SDS agreement.

The service delivery strategy outlines who provides government services and how they will be paid for. For example, the county’s animal control department operates countywide and is funded through countywide property taxes.

Henry County’s current SDS agreement expired in February 2019. The state granted a 90-day extension from the original due date of October 2018. The county and four cities have been in court to resolve their differences since that time.

The commissioners adopted the latest revisions as presented by county staff. Now, the four cities must consider adopting the same agreement. If any one of the four cities object to the county’s version, then the agreement will return to negotiations.

A major component of the new SDS agreement are the introduction of special service districts. The districts were introduced in 2020 and break down the property tax bill into specific line items. For example, residents in unincorporated Henry County and the city of Stockbridge pay into the police service district. Other cities have city police departments funded through city dollars.

Road Maintenance

The maintenance of local roads has been the biggest hurdle for the county and cities to work out. Under the revisions adopted by the board, the county agrees to pay for road maintenance in the unincorporated area through taxes collected in the unincorporated area only. This would be through either the unincorporated service district created earlier in the year or potentially a new service district.

Presently, the county relies on LMIG funding and SPLOST dollars to resurface roadways. This results in only a few miles of roadwork each year. For example, in 2020, the county resurfaced six miles of roadway. By contrast, the county is responsible for maintaining nearly 1,300 miles of paved roads. Any increase in the millage rate for roadwork would increase the county’s funding for resurfacing contracts.

Within the new agreement, the cities will become responsible for maintaining all local roadways within their boundaries. The old agreement included provisions that the county maintain specific roads within city limits. Where roads cross jurisdiction boundaries — some roads back-and-forth multiple times between county and city limits — the county and city will work towards a joint project.

Georgia DOT maintains all state routes. Local roads are all roads not on the state highway network.

Fire Services

This year, residents in unincorporated Henry County, the cities of Hampton, Locust Grove, and Stockbridge paid 1.105 mills into the newly formed fire protection service district. If the SDS agreement is ratified by the four cities, then, starting in 2021, city of McDonough residents will pay 45% of the county rate. This accounts for the city providing its own fire department, but also the county responding to practically all fire calls within the city.

Based on the 2020 rate, this will result in a millage rate of 0.497 mills for McDonough residents for county fire protection. This calculates to a property tax increase of $49.70 for a house valued at $250,000 without homestead exemption.

Commissioners removed two provisions that McDonough requested. The first provision sets the city’s millage rate in 2021 at the lesser of either 0.497 mills or 45% of the county’s rate. The second provision would cap the city’s annual rate increase thereafter at a maximum of 1.67%. Rather than cap the city’s rate, the city millage rate will adjust with the county rate.

At the present time, Henry County Fire Department operates sixteen fire stations. In the SPLOST V program, the county budgeted funds for two new stations. Stations 17 and 18 are planned in the Ola and Flippen area, respectfully.

When the county builds the new stations, an estimated thirty personnel will be added to staff them. This includes the addition of a fourth battalion chief in the county’s operational structure. The new personnel will cost approximately $3–$3.5 million annually.

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