Despite testy Council meeting, Grantville keeps current tax rateBy JOHN A. WINTERS
In a cantankerous meeting with gavel banging, threats of legal action and one council member ready to walk out, the Grantville City Council eventually voted to keep the city’s property tax millage rate the same.
And while citizens attending Tuesday’s called meeting to set the millage rate applauded the decision, it means the city will have to look at cuts in personnel and other areas to balance the budget.
Mayor Jim Sells banged his gavel on at least two occasions to try and restore order during an escalating verbal altercation with Councilwoman Selma Coty. And Councilman Barham Lundy threatened to walk out, saying “this is ridiculous.”
The called meeting was to discuss a proposed increase of five mills — or a 248 percent increase — to the city’s millage rate. That five-mill increase would add about $200 in property taxes to a $100,000 home and about $100 to a $50,000 home.
Prior to the council meeting was the last of third public hearings on the proposed mill increase.
Resident David Jones, echoing the sentiments of most who spoke at the hearings, said “a lot of people in this town are on fixed incomes. It’s a real hardship ... "It’s an awful high increase and we need to look at the budget again and see if we can lower the millage rate.”
During the public hearing Coty said, “We have been through this budget four times. This is not something we are taking lightly ... I will be impacted like you.
“But we cannot deplete our savings,” she added. “That is what has happened to so many cities. If I had my druthers, I’d rather not do this ... and look at cutting back on spending and personnel.”
Sells said the problem was that previous city budgets projected too high revenues and under-budgeted expenses. That, and the city’s property values have declined significantly.
“We are now finally getting a more realistic budget than we have in the past,” he said.
During the called council meeting, Councilwoman Rochelle Jabaley made a motion to raise the millage rate by four mills. That was seconded by Lundy.
During the discussion, Sells pointed out Coweta County, the city of Newnan and the Coweta County School System were holding their millage rates at the same rate.
“Everyone is holding on ... our citizens are suffering and I don’t think it’s appropriate,” Sells said about raising the millage rate.
Coty then jumped in and said “the mayor owns a tremendous amount of property in this city ... he should recuse himself if there is a tie.”
Sells retorted with: “I will not recuse myself ... this is America and we don’t punish people for investing.”
Coty then demanded that the city attorney research whether Sells could vote on the matter — the mayor only votes in case of a tie in Grantville. That led to Sells banging the gavel and saying the issue had already been addressed and he was going to vote if there was a tie.
And that led Lundy to say “this is ridiculous."
“We have a shortfall and we need to look at personnel,” he said. “We need to look at benefits ... and reducing the police force. There are things we can do to the budget.”
Councilman Johnny Cooks, who attended by phone, also agreed with not raising the mill rate and to look at department cuts.
When the question was called, Jabaley was the only one to vote in favor of the four-mill increase. Lundy and Cooks voted no, and Coty started discussing the issue. That led to Sells banging the gavel again and reminding Coty the discussion was over and the only thing left was for her to vote.
Coty eventually voted against the proposal during another verbal altercation with the mayor, leading Lundy to once again say, “I’m going to leave ... can’t we be civil?”
After more debate, Cooks made a motion to keep the millage rate the same, which was seconded by Lundy. Jabaley and Coty voted against that motion, and Sells broke the tie by siding with Cooks and Lundy.
Grantville’s tax digest, like most other cities, has declined significantly over the last several years due to the economic downturn. The tax digest is the total value of all taxable real property in the city.
In 2010, the net digest was $53.021 million. That dropped to $46.177 million in 2011 and currently is estimated at $36.701 million.
Grantville has been in a deficit spending mode the last couple of years, balancing its budget with reserves and utility funds.