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McDonough council
OK’s millage rollback


By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent

  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 budget.

  After the final vote, Mayor Copeland said the city would find enough cuts in the budget to make it work.

  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 then.”

  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, she said.

  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 time.

  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.



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