At the end of last year I attended the public hearing by the Whitfield County Board of Commissioners on their proposed 2014 budget. As has been the case the past few years, these dedicated public servants have proposed a very prudent and responsible budget. Given the continued difficult times we face economically, they have focused on the most pressing needs of our community and budgeted for those. They have also had to postpone many capital needs until better times.
Having served on the county commission during better times, I have a unique perspective on what our commissioners have faced these past few years and what is ahead of us going forward. Given the recent tough times, let me shed a little light on the more than admirable job they are doing.
Throughout most of its history the county has operated with a tax rate much less than our surrounding communities, communities that are comparable to us, and always lower than the state average. In full disclosure, we could do so due to a healthy tax digest thanks to the carpet industry being based here. And thanks to being located on I-75, our sales tax revenue provides strong funding for our city and county governments.
Our low tax rates cannot provide for our needs going forward given our decreased tax digest and continued expenses that increase every year. As most know, the tax digest has been reduced due to the Great Recession. In other words, our normal (low) tax rate multiplied by a reduced tax digest equals less revenue.
So the services we desire must be reduced or eliminated. I respectfully and admirably commend our commissioners for their prudent decisions the past four to five years. they have cut every line item that could be cut. They have reduced the size of county government. They have taken care of county employees as best as they could. And as a county citizen, I have not noticed any reduction in services. If fact, I would argue that our dedicated and professional county staff have insured that its citizens are served just as well as they always have.
I would further argue that our county leaders have made significant investments during these tough times that will pay tremendous dividends going forward. Specifically, in the area of economic development, our leaders have made new jobs and capital investment a primary objective.
Their investment in the Carbondale Business Park has led to more than 50 projects looking at Whitfield County for their new investment. We are currently working on more than 40 projects that are interested in our area.
Our unemployment rate has dropped from more than 14 percent to less than 10 percent. The added new jobs and new capital investment can directly be attributed to leaders of the carpet industry reinvesting here and to our county commissioners working with them to insure they put their new operations here and kept their expansions here. I know our chamber team and our elected leaders will not rest until all who desire a job has one.
Over the last five years, the efforts of our local leaders and our business leaders have resulted in the creation of 5,300 jobs and more than $730 million in new capital investment. As these jobs are filled, our unemployment rate will continue to drop. And as the capital investment is added to the tax digest, county, city and school revenues will improve. For every $1 invested in economic development, we have $222 in return. A return of investment (ROI) of 1/222.
We also have tremendously loyal and dedicated city leaders in Cohutta, Dalton, Tunnel Hill and Varnell. These leaders create places that people want to live, work and play. They have also created wonderful communities with not only low tax rates but a broad scope of services such as extra police and fire protection, recreation and leisure assets and good road infrastructure.
A desirable community needs good leaders. And although none of us will ever agree on everything, we have honorable local leaders who do their jobs with integrity and with a sense for the greater good.
I hope you will join me in thanking all who serve us locally for their sacrifice and their tremendous dedication to our local community. 2014 has the potential to be a very good year.
Brian Anderson is president and CEO of the Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce.