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Reichert offers compromise of partial millage rate rollback

Hours after Macon’s final public hearing on the proposed property tax increase ends Tuesday, City Council will vote to set the millage rate for fiscal 2010, which ends June 30.

Council members will have to decide whether to completely roll back the millage to the revenue-neutral rate of 8.95 mills, partially roll back or keep the current millage rate at 10.16 mills.

Mayor Robert Reichert recently said the city needs to keep all the windfall from Bibb County’s property revaluations and urged the council not to roll back the millage rate at all. Now, in a compromise, he’s asking the council to consider a partial rollback to 9.8 mills.

That move, he said, would increase property taxes by $34.76 on a $100,000 home and would help the city cover the $2 million shortfall in the current budget created by declining sales tax revenue.

Reichert admitted some other cuts may still be necessary, such as furloughing city employees on Memorial Day, but the partial rollback makes the shortfall easier to manage.

“I can work with that,” he said. “We’re not down here to gouge our taxpayers, and we’re sensitive to their input at the hearings. At the same time, I just can’t do what they’re asking for by going to revenue neutral. I can’t make that work.”

As for how the council will vote, opinions are as varied as the options.

Councilman Alveno Ross, who wouldn’t say how he plans to vote, said Friday, “I never thought the 10.16 millage rate was going to be the final one. What we have to ask is: What is an appropriate millage rate to meet the city’s financial needs?”

All that Councilman Erick Erickson knows for sure is that he won’t vote to keep the millage rate at 10.16.

He’s considering the partial rollback, he said, because he understands the city’s precarious financial situation. His fear, however, is that raising taxes will give the council an excuse not to look for more cuts in next year’s budget.

“When you get a raise from $20,000 to $30,000, it’s easy to forget how to live on $20,000 a year,” he said.

Like Erickson, Councilwoman Elaine Lucas wants to roll back the millage rate, either some or all the way, because she said taxpayers have suffered enough during this recession.

“I’m definitely in favor of rolling back,” Lucas said, “but I want to know the impact of a total rollback opposed to a partial rollback on the city.”

Councilwoman Nancy White said she would only support a full rollback. While she doesn’t know how the city would cover the $2 million shortfall for this year, she points out that the city has passed on several opportunities to save money in the past. For example, White said, the council killed an attempt to stop city health-care coverage for city retirees, and the mayor didn’t pursue privatization of garbage pickup.

“We can’t keep kicking the can on the tough issues,” she said.

The final public hearing on the proposed tax increase is set for 3 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall. The City Council meeting begins at 6 p.m.

To contact writer Chris Horne, call 744-4494.

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