Jonesboro residents continue anti-millage-rate calls

The Jonesboro City Council is set to vote this month on re-instituting a city property tax that could have implications on who wins this year’s municipal elections.

The controversial plan to revive the city’s millage rate, which has had critics in the community since it was introduced last winter, would likely be set at a rate of 2.5 mills. City leaders, most notably Mayor Luther Maddox, have repeatedly said the tax must be re-instituted to balance the 2011 budget, with just over $200,000 expected to be brought in by the tax.

The city has not had a millage rate — which sets how much people pay in property taxes — for several years. At public hearings held earlier this week, the fact that the property-tax proposal has come up during an election year was brought up more than once.

“I worked hard to get some of you elected, and I’ll work equally as hard to de-elect some of you,” said John Crane, who owns Tanama Tanning Salon in the city, during a public hearing on Tuesday. “There’s other candidates out there [to vote for], based on what this vote turns out to be. I encourage you all not to vote for this.”

Maddox said Wednesday that the city council is scheduled to vote on adopting the millage rate during the governing body’s monthly business meeting, on Sept. 12, at 7 p.m., in the council chambers at the Jonesboro Police Department, 170 South Main St.

The mayor would not commit, however, to saying the millage rate would definitely be set at 2.5 mills, which is the figure used for months during council discussions on the tax. “That was a number that was buoyed around, but we’ll adopt whatever rate is needed to balance the budget,” he said.

City Councilmember Pat Sebo said fellow Councilmember Wallace Norrington has floated somewhat of a compromise option, however, to set the millage rate at 1.5 mills, and make up the difference by taking it out of the city’s financial reserves.

Setting a lower millage rate is an option that some Jonesboro residents have called for, in the event the re-establishment of a millage rate becomes unavoidable. “If you have to impose something, does it have to be 2.5 mills?” Jonesboro resident, Beverly Lester, asked the council on Tuesday.

“Can you, at least, start out at one mill, and see where you go [from that point] ...?” she added, “It just seems ya’ll are responsible for the financial outlook for the city, and it would be much appreciated if you would consider the citizens when you make your decisions on where we’re spending money.”

Maddox, Norrington and Councilmembers Bobby Wiggins and Roger Grider are up for re-election this year, in a town that has a total of 12 people seeking public office — the largest cumulative group of candidates of any city in Clayton County.

Jonesboro’s sitting mayor is facing two opponents in his bid to be re-elected to a second term, while Wiggins, Norrington and Grider are part of the field of nine candidates seeking three at-large council seats.

While not every Jonesboro resident, who spoke out against the proposed tax, threatened to vote anyone out of office over the issue, Jonesboro resident, Nancy Cochran, said it could turn re-election bids into up-hill battles.

“There’s four of you up here running for re-election,” Cochran told councilmembers Tuesday evening. “You’re going to go knocking on these people’s doors, and they’re going to say, ‘You told us the last time, you weren’t going to vote for it [re-instituting the millage rate], but you did it anyway.’ It’s going to be hard asking them for their vote the second time.”

Maddox also said this week, during one of the public hearings on the proposed millage rate, that a piece of local legislation, which would have called for a city-wide referendum this November on lowering Jonesboro’s homestead exemption, did not make it out of the Georgia General Assembly during its recent special session.

As a result, the mayor conceded, there will be no homestead exemption referendum in Jonesboro this year. City leaders had hoped to get the homestead exemption lowered from $60,000 to $30,000, because its current structure would have put the burden of paying the property tax on business owners.

But, Maddox said that would have been the case anyway, this year, because the proposed referendum would have been held so late in the year, that it would not impact this year’s tax collections.

“By then [November], the property tax bills ... would already be sent out,” he said.