Jonesboro residents to comment on property tax

Planned millage rate is source of controversy

The city of Jonesboro is preparing to open a public comment period this week, on a controversial plan to re-institute the town’s property tax, after an absence of several years.

The city is planning to establish a new millage rate, at 2.5 mills, as part of its efforts to ensure that its finances stay balanced this year. The plans for the millage rate were first announced at the end of 2010, when the Jonesboro City Council weighed, and eventually adopted the town’s 2011 budget. At the time, Jonesboro Mayor Luther Maddox said the city needed a millage rate to balance its budget.

The mayor admitted earlier this week that some angry voices of opposition will “probably” be heard during three public hearings scheduled to take place between now and Sept. 6 on the millage rate.

“There will be some people who are against it, but you’ve got to have revenue coming in to continue providing the services that we all enjoy in the city,” said Maddox, on Monday.

The first public hearing on Jonesboro’s proposed millage rate is scheduled to be held Thursday, at 10 a.m., in the city council chambers at the Jonesboro Police Department, at 170 South Main St., in Jonesboro. Two more public hearings are scheduled to be held, on Aug. 25, at 2 p.m., and on Sept. 6, at 6 p.m., at the same location.

City leaders said at the time they needed to collect $166,182 in property taxes to balance the budget. But, they were not able to determine what the rate would need to be, to collect that much money, until local tax digest numbers were released by the Clayton County Tax Commissioner’s Office this past spring.

When the city’s budget was adopted at the beginning of January of this year, by a 4-2 vote, the proposed property tax proved to be a central piece in arguments over the spending plan. In addition to some council members who opposed the tax, several Jonesboro residents came out against the planned millage rate.

At the time, one Jonesboro resident, Beverly Lester, told city council members: “I feel like, by passing the budget, you have turned your backs on the citizens that supported you, and that you do not care about the suffering that we are incurring with our own lack of money coming in.”

Since then, another factor — the county’s own millage rate — has come into play as a force that could further fan the fires of opposition against Jonesboro’s tax plan.

The public hearings on Jonesboro’s proposed millage rate comes on the heels of the Clayton County Board of Commissioners’ controversial decision to increase the county’s millage rate by 5-mills, or 34-percent, from what it was during the county’s fiscal year 2011. That millage rate increase drew plenty of public opposition of its own, particularly from residents living in the Jonesboro area.

Maddox said it is possible that the county’s millage rate increase could raise additional opposition to the re-establishment of a city millage rate. He added, however, “we have to look out for the city of Jonesboro. We have no control over what the county does.”

Jonesboro’s mayor also said the Clayton County legislative delegation is expected to introduce legislation, to allow for a city-wide referendum on lowering the town’s homestead exemption from $60,000, to $30,000, during a special legislative session that began Monday in Atlanta.

City officials have said since late last year that the plan has been to get the homestead exemption lowered because it is currently so high that the burden of paying property taxes in the city falls on business owners, rather than homeowners. City residents would have to approve lowering the exemption through a referendum vote.

“We’re going to try to get the referendum on the ballot in November [of this year, during Jonesboro’s municipal elections],” Maddox said.

Legislation calling for that referendum will have to share space, however, on a special session legislative agenda that will be dominated by the general assembly’s efforts to redraw lines for state house of representative and senate districts, as well as 14 U.S. congressional districts.