Photo by Heather Middleton
By M.J. Subiria Arauz
Property owners gathered in the chambers of the Joe Murphy Public Safety Building in Lovejoy, for a public meeting, regarding a millage rate that will affect them for the first time this year.
Though many people spoke, they all seemed to deliver the same message to Mayor Joe Murphy and councilmembers: the millage rate is too high for a small city, especially during these tough economic times.
Lovejoy property owners will also be affected by Clayton County's 34.18-percent increase in the county tax rate, which was recently passed by county commissioners.
"I wouldn't dare do anything that would be devastating to the citizens of Lovejoy," said Murphy in a concerned tone.
Lovejoy initially proposed a millage rate of 10.29, said Sebastian Jackson, city manager for Lovejoy. After hearing complaints from the public, the mayor and council voted to reduce the proposed millage rate to 9 mills ,and to exempt the elderly, ages 65 and over.
He sought to assure residents that the city is keeping the property tax as low as it possibly can. "It means, for the average home in Lovejoy, you will pay $150 per home, per year," explained Jackson. "Approximately a little less than $20 a month."
Murphy added that property owners will be responsible for the property tax in November.
The city is hopeful to collect between $900,000 and $1 million in property taxes, added Jackson. He explained that most mobile home residents won't be affected by the property tax, because most of them rent the mobile homes and the land. The landowners will be taxed, he said.
The mayor and councilmembers all live in Lovejoy, so the property tax will also affect them, added the city manager.
"That is still too high," exclaimed Lindsay Baker, a 21-year Lovejoy resident. According to Baker, Lovejoy's proposed millage rate exceeds the rates of Smyrna, with 8.9 mills; Peachtree City, with 6.3 mills, and Alpharetta, with 4.2 mills. These numbers come from the 2010 Tax Digest Millage Rates report of the Local Government Services Division of the Georgia Department of Revenue.
Jackson said the reason these cities have a lower millage rate is because of their high home values. "They have houses at very high values," he stressed.
About 65 percent of the property tax will help support the Lovejoy Police Department, said Jackson. The revenue will help the department pay salaries. It will also assist with items such as uniforms, office supplies, equipment, vehicle maintenance and ammunition.
Furthermore, the property tax will give the city an option to add more police officers to the department, he said.
The remaining portion of the tax will go toward expenditures associated with amenities such as the Public Safety Building, Mayor's Park, and the Lovejoy Community Center, he said.
Lovejoy resident, Baker, said the city should keep looking for other avenues to support the police department and other services. "I agree we need police to protect this area, 'cause you know its got its problems ... Money is tight and even people who have some money, are watching it very closely, pinching pennies," said Baker. "I think they should look for other sources of revenue, besides sticking it to property owners in the city, who basically don't have the money."
Melanie Scott, also a Lovejoy resident, said she won't be facing any hardships with the property tax, though it will raise her mortgage. With this tax base, she said, she would like for the city to provide a senior center for its elderly. "Could we put an elderly senior building up?" she asked. "Can we do more things for our elderly?"
Jackson said the public does not have an issue with the property tax, itself. People are upset it will affect them during a troublesome economy, he clarified. "The cost of living is high, and there is a high unemployment rate," he said. "I am sure the council was doing its best to never implement a property tax [in years past], until it had no choice."