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Input sought on millage rate

Public hearing today to answer any questions about the unchanged rate

    The Statesboro City Council will hold a special called public hearing today to discuss setting the 2011 ad valorem (property) tax millage rate for the city.
    The mayor and council will listen to public comment about keeping the property tax rate at 6.358 mills – the same rate it has been for the last three years.
    The council kept the rate the same in from 2007 to 2008 because the city’s tax digest grew that year by 5.7 percent as a result of new development, not increased property assessment. From 2008 to 2009, the council held the millage rate steady for the same reason – a slight increase in the tax digest.
    At the budget retreat this year, however, the city was faced with the possibility of raising the millage rate by 1 mill due to a dramatic decline in revenues and a sizeable reduction in the electric and cable franchise fees collected by the city. In fact, raising the rate was the number one budget assumption on the budget retreat’s agenda. However, the council members said that, in this economy, raising the millage rate was a last option.
    “I am doing everything I can, our council is doing everything they can, our staff is doing everything they can, our mayor is doing everything he can – raising the millage rate is absolutely our last resort,” said Councilman Will Britt in April.
    One move designed to keep the council from raising the millage rate was the restructuring of the police and fire departments in May. Following the council’s directive to close a $425,000 budget shortfall without raising the millage rate, City Manager Shane Haynes eliminated six police and fire positions, including both the police and fire chief positions.
    The controversial move was supported by the mayor and council, who voted 5-0 in favor of the restructuring at a council meeting in May.
    “I think all of us know that people, when you talk about tax increases, that (they) don’t want to have them,” said Mayor Joe Brannen. “So we looked at this and what we could do to find the funds to balance the budget.”
    Other budget tightening moves designed to keep the millage rate static included freezing the salaries of city employees for fiscal year 2011, not filling some open city positions, and shifting some hotel/motel tax revenues from the Statesboro Convention and Visitor’s Bureau to the Downtown Development Authority and Statesboro Arts Council to reduce their impact on the city’s general fund.
    The public hearing will be held today at 4 p.m. in the council chambers on the second floor of city hall.

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