No one likes to pay taxes, and to be faced with a tax increase is a pill that no politician and certainly no property owner wants to swallow.
But the city of Douglasville finds itself in a situation that appears to require more from its residents to pay the bills.
Depending on how you look at it, the city is facing a $1.6 million deficit in the general fund budget. Through some ideas and cuts, they still need an additional $943,000 to stay in the black. It looks like it will fall on taxpayers.
At a budget work session Thursday night, the council seemed to be more concerned about a headline in this newspaper and alarm it would cause residents. The headline said, “City property taxes may be going up 52%” and in a worst-case scenario, the millage rate could see that kind of jump in millage.
“There was a question about an article in the newspaper that we’re going to raise taxes 52 percent; where did that come from because that’s scaring the hell out of the constituents out there right now,” council member Carl Pope asked.
Well, it came from them. City Finance Director Karin Callan double-checked our numbers and confirmed that number was correct in a worst-case scenario and even the 1-mill increase would mean an 18 percent millage hike or about $40 extra bucks to the owner of a $100,000 home. Not our number, not a mistake. Your numbers and the cold reality.
Outside the bellyaching, some ideas were kicked around — including using reserves to keep from increasing millage, which would also mean more taxes. That’s not a bad idea. After all, that is what we have to do as we sit at our kitchen table and pay bills. We don’t have the luxury of reaching into someone else’s pockets to keep our checkbook in balance.
The council will consider that plan, but it didn’t get a warm reception. Why would it when they can ask the taxpayers for more? But there are some things that need to be made clear. There needs to be some changes made.
• Overtime for managers and department heads needs to be eliminated. Managers shouldn’t be paid hourly. They claim that they operate like a business and in a fiscally responsible manner. Nowhere in the private sector are managers paid overtime. As it stands now, many of the city’s managers can basically work overtime as they see fit and are paid for it. Must be nice.
• Having meetings recorded for transparency is nice, but does the city and the county too, for that matter, need a television station that have a budget of about half-a-million dollars? No, it doesn’t. Posting videos and calendars on the Internet would serve the same purpose. Right now, all the programs are glorified opportunities for leaders to get air time. Wouldn’t election opponents like that luxury and equal time? You know they would.
• Travel to conferences, retreats and training for elected officials needs to be stopped. The word nonessential comes to mind.
• We read and hear that home values are on the rebound. That would mean that in time, the tax digest would increase. If millage is increased, the potential of budget surplus could be a reality very soon. If this council raises the millage, then it should promise that any overages would be refunded to the taxpayers and they would move to roll back the millage rate.
It is easy today to look at the conference center and West Pines Golf Course and say that is killing the budget. They certainly don’t help, but they are here and aren’t going away. We will be paying for the conference center until 2035. Could the operating budget be cut? Yes, and they need to do that.
A lot of people in this country took issue with the Obama Administration when, time after time, the economic woes of the country were blamed on the previous administration. But to be honest, West Pines and the Conference Center were the ideas of a previous administration and in a pre-recession economy, they seemed like a good concept. But in this climate, in hindsight, they don’t have the same glow.
Mayor Harvey Persons will tell you quickly that this wasn’t his idea, but now he and this council have to find a away to make it work. They are trying everything, and so far the results are mixed at best.
We asked Councilman Mike Miller how he felt about the budget mess, how the city got to this point and how should the council deal with it. The answer wasn’t sunshine and rainbows, but is was as close to the way we see it as we have heard so far.
“The city is in an unfortunate financial crisis that is a direct result of the former mayor’s leadership and those who followed his reckless initiatives,” Miller said. “Being fiscally and economically conservative, I believe the primary function of city government is to provide for the general welfare and safety of the city residents and businesses; not to provide taxpayer-supplemented government services, which directly compete with the local private sector and discourage private investment. While we need to learn from mistakes of the past, dwelling on them will not solve the tough issues.
“The current mayor and council have inherited the problem, together we are working to develop a solution that does not jeopardize the fiscal or physical welfare of our citizens. I believe that by being as efficient and transparent as possible, the current mayor and council can instill confidence in our citizens so that our community can weather this financial storm together.”
Blaming a headline in a newspaper isn’t going to change that you have more expenses than you have income right now. So cut the budget to the bone, find any new revenues that may be out there and use a safe level of reserves. Then and only then, ask the taxpayers for help.