By Monroe Roark
It was quite a reversal from
the previous week.
Just days after it seemed a
millage increase was a foregone conclusion, the McDonough City
Council swung the other way and approved a partial rollback at its
final hearing July 23.
A proposed increase to 4.997
mills was presented initially, but the final number was 4.375. A
full rollback would have put the millage at 4.02, so property tax
bills will be slightly higher due to the rise in assessments.
The new city budget calls for
the addition of four firefighters and one police officer, and that
will not change, according to city officials.
Three council members – Craig
Elrod, Gail Notti and Roger Pruitt – voted along with Mayor Billy
Copeland to deny the proposed millage increase.
At the root of the issue was
a $400,000 budget shortfall and how to fund it. At previous hearings
it appeared that the majority of the council felt the millage
increase was the only way to raise the necessary revenue, arguing
that it was needed to cover, among other things, the hiring of
additional public safety personnel as provided for in the new
After the final vote, Mayor
Copeland said the city would find enough cuts in the budget to make
Some controversy also arose
from planned improvements to the city’s municipal court building,
the funds for which were included in the general fund budget. A
number of citizens said that the money for that project should come
from SPLOST revenue instead.
The mayor said yesterday that
he initially wanted to cut $500,000 from the budget, but he was
“brushed aside” by the council and thought there was no chance he
could get such a move pushed through. But after citizens began
raising questions about city expenditures and increased taxes at the
hearings, he realized there might be an opportunity after all.
Now city officials are
meeting weekly and going line by line to see where adjustments can
made, according to the mayor.
“It’s going to take a while
for us to do that,” he said. “I will eventually ask for a budget
amendment; it might be next month but I’m not sure we’ll be ready by
Annette O'Banion, owner of
Scarlett’s Retreat in downtown McDonough, was pleased with the final
vote but acknowledged that getting to that point was a challenge.
Some of the council members
told O’Banion that they were waiting on Mayor Copeland, who has
taken the no-higher-taxes position from the start, to provide them
with a list of possible items to cut from the budget. She found that
argument a bit strange.
“Why should he be the only
one looking for cuts?” she asked. “It’s the job of every member of
the council to do that.”
She was also concerned about
the SPLOST IV list that the council voted to bond at its regular
monthly meeting July 21, two days before the final millage hearing.
That list contained more than $1 million for various park
improvements but certain items such as fire trucks had been removed,
Also mentioned during that
discussion was that the municipal court property was included on the
SPLOST III list but had been de-prioritized and was never funded
except for a few minor improvements, according to O’Banion.
“If the court building is
such a high priority, why wasn’t it funded higher during SPLOST III
and why are we still spending SPLOST III money on parks?” she asked.
As for the long term,
O’Banion stressed that the city must rethink its defined benefit
plan for employees instead of simply going to the taxpayers every
time the costs go up, as it is very likely to keep rising for some
With city revenue from
various sources on the increase, she wants to see a strategy to make
the city more business-friendly from an economic standpoint so that
business growth and the revenue stemming from it can bear more of
the burden for funding city operations instead of property taxes.
“We need to have business
growth to afford what the city wants,” she said, pointing out that
many business owners like her pay considerably more in property
taxes than residential homeowners even though she doesn’t live in
the county and cannot vote.
“Instead of going for more property taxes,
let’s build job opportunities and new businesses in the city,
downtown and otherwise, and you will have the revenue you’re looking
for,” she said.