No change expected for Jonesboro tax rate

JONESBORO — There will likely be no change in the tax situation business owners face inside the Jonesboro city limits this year.

The city has proposed keeping its property tax rate at 1.5 mills and the burden of paying it falls on the shoulders of businesses because of the city’s high homestead exemption. Simultaneously, officials are starting to sound less optimistic that efforts to get the Georgia General Assembly’s blessing for a referendum on lowering the exemption will be approved.

It struggled to get out of the state House of Representatives earlier this year, but it did eventually make it over to the Senate where it stalled without the support of state Sen. Gail Davenport (D-Jonesboro), head of the Clayton County Legislative Delegation.

Technically, bill are still alive until the end of the 2014 session, but it’s effectively dead in the water without Davenport’s support.

However, that effort got further than a previous try during the 2011-2012 legislative term when legislators refused to even put the city’s request into writing as a bill.

“We’ve been unsuccessful twice so far in our efforts to get a referendum approved,” said Mayor Pro Tem Pat Sebo. “The mayor and I have gone down to the capital and [city attorney] Steve Fincher has gone down there and our legislative delegation has turned us down.

“In light of that, I think we need to keep the millage rate where it’s at or certainly not raise it at least,” she continued.

The referendum issue continues to be a sore spot for Jonesboro leaders. After the unsuccessful effort to get a referendum approved during the 2011-2012 term, the city had a glimmer of hope that their cause would be advanced with state Rep. Mike Glanton (D-Jonesboro) introduced a bill calling for a referendum this year.

The bill suffered from a misconception among several legislators in the Clayton County Legislative Delegation that it would impose a new tax on Jonesboro residents rather than let them vote on joining in to pay an existing tax. It slowed its movement in the state house and ultimately stopped it in the Senate.

The other state representative who represents a portion of Jonesboro, Rep. Demetrius Douglas (D-Stockbridge), hesitated to support the bill until after he met with residents during a tense town hall meeting in March. He signed on as a sponsor of the bill after the meeting, where residents overwhelmingly called for the referendum to take place.

Had it passed both chambers of the General Assembly, residents would have voted on lowering the $60,000 exemption to $10,000 during the November municipal election. The bill will now have to be amended to call for a special election or to have the question put on the 2015 municipal ballot.

Or it could be simply left for dead and that’s a hard pill for Jonesboro leaders to accept.

“I still think it should be up to the citizens to decide whether we should lower our exemption,” said Councilman Clarence Mann.

“I concur with you, Mr. Mann, but the law doesn’t allow us to call for a referendum on our own,” said Sebo. “Our feeling is the resolution should be allowed to take place. All we are asking them to do is to let us vote on the matter and they would not let us do that. Maybe they’ll think differently next year when we do get to vote on whether they get to stay in office.”

The city held two hearings on the proposed millage rate Monday. A third and final hearing is set to take place Sept. 16 at 6 p.m. at the Jonesboro Police Department, 170 South Main St. A called meeting is expected to be held after the hearing to approve the millage rate.