By Justin Boron
Lovejoy is exploring the possibility of creating its own police department by next year, a move that the city's mayor said would almost certainly require levying property taxes.
Largely dependent on the county for public safety services, the city has been able to generate enough revenue from permits, inspections, and sales tax to pay its bills and five employees. The low administrative expenses have allowed it to remain the only city in the county that does not have an ad valorem property tax.
But Mayor Joe Murphy said the addition of a seven-position police department would cost about $1.7 million to start up and wouldn't be able to operate without another source of tax revenue.
“To do this, we're going to have to impose a city property tax,” he said, adding it would have to be in place by August of 2006.
The city has had the power to levy property taxes since it got its city certification in October last year. All the city council would have to do now is set a millage rate, Murphy said.
But already there is some opposition.
Councilman Arlie Aukerman said he is adamantly against a property tax, saying people in general already are taxed too much in life.
Although she favors a city police department, Councilwoman Angela Cannon also said she wouldn't support the proposed tax without first consulting the citizens.
Murphy said nothing is certain and he would be open to public discussion of the property tax issue.
Nevertheless, he said he thought citizens would benefit from having police service closer to them.
“The people want the security,” he said, citing slow response times from county police in the city. “In 30 minutes things can really change.”
Currently, the city contracts with the county government for its police and fire service.
The Clayton County Police Department has a precinct near the city limits and has a good response time, said Assistant Chief Jeff Turner.
He said Lovejoy isn't a “high-crime” area and the officers at the county's south side precinct “have always done a good job in patrolling that area.”
But Turner admitted a city police department would likely improve the response time and heighten coverage because Lovejoy officers would be patrolling only that area.
The police department also would put some distance in the relationship between Lovejoy and the county, which citizens have criticized as being too entangled.
In addition to funneling sales tax revenue to the Lovejoy's coffers, the city certification last year was supposed to give it more independence.
But in formally declaring itself a municipality, city officials did little to severe ties with the county government. They continued to contract public safety services with the county, and Murphy also continues to work as the assistant director of the county's community development department.
At its meeting last week, the city council contracted Eddie Williams - the mayor's boss within the county government - to conduct building inspections part time at a rate of $600 a week.
Murphy said he agrees that the city needs to become more self-sufficient. The new police department would be part of that effort, he said, adding he would like to find another full-time inspector to replace Williams' part-time, month-to-month contract.
“I think that it's time for Lovejoy to step out a little bit,” he said.
Aukerman also said the city needs to do more for itself.
“We're at the mercy of the county,” he said.
Although Aukerman said he favors a police department, he is caught between what the city may need and his unwillingness to levy property taxes.
“I'm for some type of police department, but I don't know what it would be.”