By Joel Hall
In preparation for new development, the cities of Forest Park and Morrow voted to raise their property tax rates this week. Forest Park increased its ad valorem tax by 2 mills, while Morrow raised its levy by 1 mill.
According to Forest Park City Manager John Parker, the city council voted unanimously on Tuesday to increase the city's gross millage rate from 10.343 mills to 12.343 mills. Parker said the increase would not effect most homeowners, because of the city's extremely high homestead exemption.
"You have to own a home that costs $375,000 or more before any taxes are charged," Parker said. "If you rent it out, then taxes are levied." He said those most impacted would be commercial property owners and apartment complex owners.
Parker said that in September 2011, the city will potentially inherit 1,100 extra acres of property due to the closure of the Ft. Gillem Army base. He said tax revenues have been down in recent years and the tax increase is needed to accommodate the extra manpower that will be needed to patrol and police the area.
"We are having to gear up to take the Ft. Gillem property under our wing," Parker said. "We know that we are going to have to put a precinct out there. Having a precinct out there will require a senior officer. There will be sergeants and patrol officers. We will need to have a fire station out there, too. Then, you also have your fire chief, a battalion chief, and all the equipment that goes with it. We have to finance it, and that is why the additional millage is required."
According to Parker, the city has hired three new police officers this year and plans to hire three more in the early part of next year. The city is also in the process of hiring six new firefighters, he said. Parker believes any tax burden to citizens will soon be absorbed by new commercial and industrial businesses expected to move onto the Ft. Gillem property after 2011.
"Eventually, there will be a substantial amount of money coming to the citizens," he said. "At some point in time, it will start to lighten the burden of the people participating in the tax structure of Forest Park."
On Tuesday, the Morrow City Council voted to increase the city's gross millage rate from 11 mills to 12 mills. According to city officials, a six-mill rollback, funded by the city's collection of a Local Option Sales Tax (LOST), brings the city's net millage to 6 mills, as of Tuesday.
On Wednesday, Morrow City Manager Jeff Eady confirmed that the city had its third public hearing about the proposed millage increase on Tuesday night, and that the city council passed the proposal shortly after the hearing. Earlier, on Aug. 20, Eady had said that the additional tax revenue will support the salaries of a handful of new positions, including an economic development director, a full-time city clerk, and a full-time human resources manager.
According to Morrow Finance Officer Dan Defnall, Morrow property owners will see the increase on their October 2009 tax bill. He said revenue generated by the change will bring the city's 2010 budget to $10.4 million, compared to $10.2 million in 2009. Defnall said the city has a $170,000 homestead exemption and that the majority of Morrow residents would not see a significant difference in their tax bills.
Others and their levies
This year, the Clayton County Board of Commissioners (BOC), Clayton County Public Schools, and the Clayton County Water Authority all raised their rates. This summer, the BOC increased county property taxes by 3 mills, raising its gross millage from 13.453 to 16.453. The school system maxed out it's millage rate, raising it's gross millage rate from 19.836 mills to 20 mills.
On Aug. 1, county water users -- who use more than 4,000 per month -- saw their rates rise between 1.8 and 7 percent, depending on their usage.
The cities of Riverdale, Lake City, Jonesboro, and Lovejoy, however, have not raised their ad valorem taxes from their 2008 levels, according to officials in each city. According to the officials, the 2009 gross millage rates for Riverdale, Lake City, Jonesboro, and Lovejoy are: 15.93 mills, 17.673 mills, 3 mills, and zero mills, respectively.
Riverdale, Lake City, and Jonesboro have each instituted a LOST rollback, bringing their net millage rates to 7.5 mills, 5.737 mills, and zero mills, respectively.
Jonesboro Mayor Luther Maddox said the city is doing everything it can to be frugal with the money of Jonesboro residents. "We don't build new town centers or have new development plans ... we just take care of the people living in the city," he said. "We may have to raise ours [Jonesboro's ad valorem taxes] sometime in the future, but right now, we are doing everything we can to keep from [doing] it."
Riverdale City Manager Iris Jessie said the city has had to outsource some of its general maintenance work to outside companies, in order to keep from raising taxes. She said the city will set its 2009 millage rate next Monday, but did not expect it to increase.
"We don't have a lot of new things in the budget," she said. "With the Town Center, we have our certificates of participation, so there is bond funding for that. We always try to look internally before we ask the taxpayers to pay anymore in property taxes."
Lovejoy City Manager Sebastian Jackson said that new development in Lovejoy will likely prevent the city from having to levy property taxes in the near future. "Right now, there are no property taxes in the City of Lovejoy," Jackson said. "We're opening our first two package stores in Lovejoy. They recently built a new Shell gas station. They also recently built a new lounge called 'Flirt.' It is a tapas bar. There is lot of new development coming into Lovejoy, which has prevented us from having to raise the millage rate."
Jackson said the City of Lovejoy is currently building a new police station, but is "working on a plan to build that without having to raise fees or institute property taxes."
In an e-mailed statement, Lake City City Manager Jerry Garr said conservative spending has helped insulate the city's budget. He expects no tax increases in the coming year.
"Lake City is fiscally conservative in incurring future debt and has established a reserve fund to finance unanticipated expenditures and/or revenue shortfalls," Garr said. "The FY 2009 budget has no reduction in levels of service, nor is there any reduction foreseen in the preliminary FY 2010 budget."