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Jonesboro residents express millage rate concerns

There were no passionate pleas Thursday for the Jonesboro City Council to find another way to balance the city’s budget, without instituting a property tax, but several residents and council members did make known their opposition to a planned millage rate increase.

The city is holding public input sessions to gather feedback on plans to set the town’s millage rate at 2.5 mills, and the first hearing was held Thursday morning with a small crowd of eight residents in attendance. The city has not had a millage rate — which sets how much people pay in property taxes — for several years.

When the plans for re-instituting the tax were announced last December, it raised protests from some council members and residents, and those sentiments were still on display this week at the public hearing.

“We will not have a city property tax,” Jonesboro resident Nancy Cochran emphatically told the council members.

Jonesboro Mayor Luther Maddox has repeatedly said the city’s millage rate needed to be increased this year to balance the town’s 2011 budget. The line item in the budget specified that $166,182 in property taxes was planned to be brought in by the city, to help keep its spending plan balanced.

“If we could save that much money, we wouldn’t have to charge [property taxes], but now we have looked at the expenditures for the last several months, and we [are] staying even right now [with projections] ... and it’s going to take 2.5 mills to balance the budget,” Maddox said. He later added, “Nothing in our revenue sources is increasing enough to cover 2.5 mills.”

Jonesboro Finance Officer Sandra Meyer told city council members on Thursday, however, that setting the millage rate at 2.5 mills would generate “a little over $200,000.” She later explained that would cover the amount of money expected to be brought in by not only a property tax, but also $40,000 expected to be brought in through an ad valorem tax that was included as a revenue source in the town’s current budget.

Maddox listed off the millage rates for every city in Clayton County, claiming that the county’s six other cities had rates of no less than 7.5 mills. He added that at 2.5 mills, “We’re going to be way cheaper than any other city in the county.”

Some residents questioned why money from other sources, such as an existing city tax (on items other than properties), or additional cuts, such as furloughs, could not be considered. “What happened to the city alcohol tax, and the money from that?” Jonesboro resident Penelope Warren asked Maddox.

The mayor responded, by saying “any taxes that we collect, whether its [the] alcohol tax, or any tax, goes into the general fund for the city.”

That prompted Warren to then ask, “But, the property tax still needs to go up?”

The mayor also argued that, based on figures he received from Clayton County Tax Commissioner Terry Baskin, the owner of a home valued at $80,000 would have to pay $40 in city property taxes at the planned rate. But, Maddox added that would be the case if there was a $60,000 homestead exemption. The city has asked for legislation to hold a city-wide referendum this fall to cut that exemption to $30,000.

City councilman Clarence Mann warned his colleagues against approving the millage rate increase, however, saying he believed any new taxes created now would likely be permanent, meaning they would not go away in future years.

“I would just like to ask, since we [are making] these millage rate comparisons of the other cities here, what their millage rate was four, or five years ago?” Mann asked Maddox. “I feel like they probably started off at one, or two [mills], and worked their way up to where they’re at now. I say this is the same thing that will happen here, because anytime there is a tax levied in any manor, it never goes away.”

The city council is scheduled to hold two more public hearings on the proposed millage rate, on Aug. 25, at 2 p.m., and on Sept. 6, at 6 p.m., in the council chambers at the Jonesboro Police Department, at 170 South Main St., in Jonesboro.