Grantville seeks budget solutions
by Clay Neely
While media from metro Atlanta television outlets were in attendance for Monday’s city council meeting in Grantville about an expected firing, it was all much ado about nothing.
The rumors regarding the termination of recreation department director Michelle Huffsticker were ultimately unfounded. Instead, the meeting focused on attempts to make the current budget more fiscally responsible.
The council unanimously voted to go into closed session to discuss what it said was a personnel matter.
After the closed session, Council Member Johnny Cooks made an immediate motion regarding overtime by city employees. That motion, approved unanimously, said all overtime by city employees must be approved by their department head, the mayor, or the city manager. The decision goes into effect immediately.
According to Georgia open meeting laws, elected officials may go into closed meetings to discuss specific personnel, pending litigation or real estate matters.
“There was never any discussion of terminating anyone,” said Mayor Jim Sells after the meeting. “I can’t stop the rumors people spread, but we are only attempting to get our spending under control and it came down to solving our overtime problems.”
Citing the need for the city to become more fiscally responsible, Sells acknowledged that the need to establish control over the current budget is a primary concern and one of the biggest problems is overtime.
“We have to get control of our budget and one of the problems we have is overtime,” said Sells. “I’m not saying the overtime is unnecessary, but we’re going to try to manage it better so that we’re fiscally responsible.”
During the discussion regarding tax millage rates for the city, it was revealed the current budget is $36,000 short based on expected revenue. Presently, Grantville has a property tax rate of 1.69 mills – a mill is one dollar per thousand of assessed property value. Homeowners are charged based on 40 percent of their assessed property value.
“If we use a home valued at $80,000 as baseline value, a home that the county has valued at $80,000 – that 1.69 mills is $54 a year,” Sells said. “That’s less than $5 a month. No one is lower around here – Hogansville is five times that and most cities are triple that.”
If Grantville increased its millage, each mill will increase the current taxes paid on an $80,000 home an additional $32 a year. Two mills on an $80,000 home would pay the city $118.
“That would still be under $10 a month,” Sells said. “With the total value of properties, a one-mill increase would increase revenue to city by $40,000.”
After examining the current budget, Councilman David Riley supported a tax rate increase, citing that it would provide a long-term cushion in the budget. Councilman Leonard Gomez agreed. “At the recent GMA (Georgia Municipal Association) meeting, it was mentioned that you want to be within a certain bracket with the millage rate when you’re looking for loans, bonds or grants,” Gomez said. “They’re looking for revenue that a city generates.”
Cooks and fellow Councilman Barham Lundy disagreed – citing that better management of the current budget would be a better solution.
“We are spending too much money as it is,” Lundy said. “If we just reduce our spending, we won’t need to do this.”
Riley and Gomez voted for the motion to raise the current millage rate while Cooks and Lundy voted against. With Sells acting as the tie-breaking vote against the measure, the motion failed and the current millage rate will remain unchanged.
Cooks explained that his decision was made for fiscal responsibility.
“If we don’t raise taxes, which I am not for, it’s important to maintain and manage our budget,” Cooks said.