Macon City Council voted 10-4 in favor of a proposal to keep the city’s millage rate at 10.16 mills, which amounts to a tax increase because the recent countywide property revaluation raised property values by 13.51 percent.
Council members Erick Erickson, Nancy White, Lonnie Miley and Rick Hutto voted against the resolution. Councilman Ed DeFore was not present for the vote.
Only Hutto spoke out during the meeting about the resolution.
“We need to be very clear to our residents that we are going to be raising taxes,” he said. “I just think we need be very honest about that.”
Afterward, Erickson echoed that sentiment.
“I think the language from the mayor’s office should be more up front,” he said. Erickson also acknowledged that the resolution functions to set the three public hearings. State law requires those hearings to be held before the city can opt out of rolling back the millage to keep the city from receiving a windfall from the revaluation.
“We’ve said we’re not rolling back the millage rate. I don’t know how we’ve been deceptive about that,” the mayor’s spokesman, Andrew Blascovich, said. “There are going to be three public meetings. It’s not like we’re doing this in the dark of night.”
City Council President Miriam Paris said she hasn’t decided whether to support a rollback of the millage rate, which is still possible because the resolution is only a proposal and not the final vote on the matter. She is waiting to see what the public wants, though she admits the city’s declining revenues make the decision more difficult.
“I’m really looking forward to those public hearings,” she said. “The worst thing in the world is to raise taxes, but we’ve seen some critical times lately.”
Councilman Mike Cranford stressed that the city hasn’t raised property taxes in “a long, long time.”
“In this economic downturn, the revenue we’re getting isn’t sufficient for what we want to do,” he said.
“We can’t do business like that.”
He wants to keep the millage rate where it is, effectively raising taxes.
“I’m not in favor of rolling back the millage rate even though I wish we could,” he said.
Blascovich reiterated the mayor’s desire to put a pay scale in place for all city employees, but he acknowledged the money from the property tax increase — estimated at $2.5 million — might not be enough to fund the entire thing immediately and that it may have to be done in steps.
“We have to look at what is reasonable and achievable for Macon,” he said.
Hutto, during the council meeting, said he served on a committee to research a pay scale a couple of years ago. That committee, he said, found it would cost the city approximately $5.5 million just to fund a pay scale for public safety alone.
“I don’t want our city employees to think that $2.5 million will fund the pay scale for everyone,” he said. “That would be a false hope.”
To contact writer Chris Horne, call 744-4494.