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Jonesboro millage rate stays at zero for 2008
City contemplates benefits of SPLOST

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

An attempt to overturn an Oct. 8 decision to set the city of Jonesboro's 2008 millage rate to zero was shot down during a called meeting of the Jonesboro City Council on Wednesday.

Councilman Bobby Wiggins made a motion to increase the rate to 1 mill -- a move which would have generated $90,000 of tax revenue for the city. The motion was seconded by Councilwoman Linda Wenz, but was ultimately defeated in a 3-2 vote. Council members Roger Grider, Clarence Mann, and Rick Yonce voted against the motion.

While Mayor Joy Day supported having a 1 mill rate, several council members believed it would be a deterrent to businesses the city is currently trying to annex on the outskirts of Jonesboro.

"We're trying to attract businesses to the city," said Grider. "With the economic conditions being the way they are, and the businesses closing up in the city, we felt like it would be a good thing to do for the citizens."

According to Day, only a handful of residents with property values of higher than $150,000 pay property taxes in the city of Jonesboro, and home owners get a $60,000 homestead exemption.

"They're not giving the citizens a break by having a millage rate of zero," said Day. "The businesses have to pay. The budget is going to be a problem with a zero millage rate."

Grider said with over $3 million in reserve, $90,000 in lost tax revenues is worth the incentives that it would give businesses to move into the city.

"We're kind of in the middle of doing some annexation, and it's good that we have something to offer these businesses," said Yonce. When asked if the issue of millage could come up for a vote again, he said, "I hope it wouldn't ... I think that it would be a strong selling point" to have a zero millage rate.

In addition to setting the millage rate, the city also put together a tentative list of projects it would like to see completed, if a Special Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) is put on the ballot by the county, and approved by voters in February 2008.

Last Tuesday, the Clayton County Board of Commissioners approved a tentative plan for a six-year SPLOST which would fund $320 million worth of projects for the county, as well as all of its municipalities. Jonesboro would get about $6 million, according to Day.

At the meeting, a tentative list of projects, costing around $4.6 million was presented. The list will be adjusted and submitted to the county on Friday, the deadline for all cities to sign an intergovernmental agreement with the county to dedicate themselves to SPLOST projects.

Terry Legvold, the SPLOST program coordinator for Clayton County, said the current five-year SPLOST has not been as affective as the county had hoped, due to the escalating cost of construction.

"Everything is costing more than originally estimated," said Legvold. "We haven't been able to get as much done as we hoped."

Legvold said in the current SPLOST, the county, rather than the municipalities, had the responsibility of prioritizing and funding SPLOST projects in the municipalities as the money becomes available. To prevent bottlenecking, he said, if the new SPLOST is approved, the county will distribute money to the cities on a monthly basis, allowing the cities to prioritize their own projects.

Clayton County Chairman Eldrin Bell said the change is an improvement, because it gives the cities a greater say in their own futures. "We don't have to play the balance role anymore, and I am very glad that we are doing it this way," said Bell.

Clayton County Commissioner Wole Ralph said the new funds dispersal plan "gives them [the cities] ownership and control."

However, Yonce is leery of the next SPLOST proposal, noting that the county had not delivered on $800,000 promised toward city projects during the current SPLOST.

Supporters view things differently, however. "It's a painless way to fund big community projects," said Day. "It will get the projects off the ground easier."

"This time, it's a whole new ball game," said Grider. "It's important that [the proposed SPLOST] pass, if we're going to get all of these projects done."