Jonesboro Mayor Joy Day says city officials are trying to tighten their belts rather than rely solely on a tax to fix their money issues.
JONESBORO — The Jonesboro City Council voted 4-1 Monday to keep a controversial property tax in which the burden falls on the city’s business owners.
The city will continue to have a property tax rate of 1.5 mills for another year, which is expected to generate $106,200 in revenues for the city this year.
Although property taxes can be a controversial matter, with opponents often arguing governments need to tighten their fiscal belts, Jonesboro Mayor Joy Day said city officials are trying to tighten their belts rather than rely solely on a tax to fix their money issues.
“We did try to cut expenses and we are trying to economize as much as possible,” said Day.
Although the city is keeping the tax in place, the existence of the homestead exemption means most Jonesboro residents won’t realize it exists because they won’t have to pay it.
Figures provided by city officials show the owner of a home valued at $150,000 or less will not have to pay property taxes. That is because the home’s taxable value is equal or less than the value of the homestead exemption. The owner of a $200,000 home will have to pay $30 in taxes, however, while the owner of a $300,000 home will be required to pay $90.
The tax rate was established last year amid protests from business owners who claimed it was unfair that they had to pay the tax when the city’s $60,000 homestead exemption allowed many homeowners to avoid paying it.
Last year was the first time in several years that Jonesboro had a property tax.
But echoes of last year’s fight over recreating a tax rate remained Monday night.
Council member Clarence Mann, who voted against the tax last year, cast the lone vote against it this year as well. He said he opposed it largely because the economy has not improved since last year.
“I’m opposed to any taxes being levied on our citizens with the economy as bad as it is,” said Mann. He added he will continue to oppose a city property tax until an economic turnaround happens.
Mann said he also had qualms about the burden of paying still falling on businesses owners. With the homestead exemption in place, only a handful of homes in the city are valued high enough to require their owners to still pay a tax, he said.
The long-time argument from business owners and other tax opponents has been the tax burden placed on businesses discourages business owners from setting up shop, or keeping shop, in the city.
“I just kind of think it’s unfair that, with such a high homestead exemption in place, the responsibility for paying the tax falls on our businesses,” said Mann. “We need all of the businesses we can get in this city.”
Day said the city’s 1.5-mill property tax rate is still the lowest among Clayton County’s seven cities, however.
Figures provided by the mayor show Morrow and Lake City each have tax rates of 7.5 mills; Lovejoy’s rate is 7.579 mills; Riverdale’s is 9.98 mills; College Park’s is 11.56 mills and Forest Park’s tax rate is 14.743 mills.
“We’re trying to keep the millage rate as low as possible so it will impact as few people as possible,” said Day.
Whether the tax will be needed again after this year remains to be seen. The city, which operates on a January-to-December fiscal calendar, is just beginning to put together its 2013 budget.
Day said city department heads are expected to submit their preliminary budgets Tuesday, and she will go over them with Finance Director Sandra Meyers by the end of the week. Until the preliminary budgets are submitted and reviewed, the mayor said she won’t know how much of a tax will be needed next year — if one will even be needed.
That answer may come soon, though.
“Hopefully, we’ll have a budget to present to the citizens in November,” said Day.