If Greenwood County Council wants to deliver an early Christmas present to the taxpayers, it certainly will if it chooses to decrease the millage -- a distinct possibility.
Council is already in good graces with most county residents with its recent decision to pay off bond indebtedness using capital sales tax funds to erase about $10.5 million in debt. The move makes Greenwood County the lone county in the state to be debt free. As Toby Chappell, county manager, noted recently, paying off the debt was a no-brainer. And he is correct. Why continue making interest-bearing payments on the debt when there is a sizable pot of money available to pay it off without negatively affecting the county’s financial position? The debt has been paid off and the county still has several million in the bank from the penny sales tax that can be applied toward a future capital project.

Now, however, with the debt paid off and a budget balanced at $19.8 million, council has a decision to make regarding the 6.1 mills taxpayers were assessed to service the debt. Chappell recommended council retain 2 mills to strengthen the general fund a bit and 1 mill to stream more dollars into the capital funds budget. That leaves 3.1 mills the council can either retain and distribute similarly or eliminate. Eliminating the remaining millage will not affect the 2015 budget as it is already balanced as is, but it would affect taxpayers -- in a good way.
Granted, the reduction in taxes would not be enough to make or break most taxpayers’ wallets, but that is not really the whole point. Council is showing fiscal responsibility by paying off debt and avoiding continually mounting interest payments on that debt. It established a balanced budget going into the new fiscal year and, essentially, does not need the dollars that could be gleaned by leaving the debt service millage at the same rate. The only responsible thing to do, in that case, is to take it off the books and not burden the taxpayers.
No doubt there will be a call to roll back the entire 6.1 mills. After all, the debt is paid off in full, thus eliminating the need for the millage that was established to pay down that debt. That is a good and logical argument, but we see the wisdom in padding the general fund a little as emergencies can arise. Channeling dollars into the capital fund also seems logical as there will be the need for capital funds at some point in the county’s future. The best way to look at that decision is to view it as council putting money into a savings account for a future need.
Council will soon revisit the topic of the 6.1 mills. When it does, we would hope it will continue on its fiscally responsible path. We suspect that will happen.