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Register may impose taxes
Reports show resident fees dont pay for services
O'Grady - photo by FILE
    During the Register Town Council mid-year budget review Tuesday night, the mayor and council members discussed the possibility of raising fees and taxes.
    Town clerk/administrator Mandi Pilz reported that she had reviewed all departments midway in the fiscal year and that there were, “...significant differences in revenues...” [versus expenses].  
    Two examples cited by Pilz were that expenses for the water department were higher than projected user fees, and that the public works department had some expenses that had not been allocated in the budget.
    Pilz asked council to study a “scheme of solutions” during their “working meeting” scheduled for Saturday.
    Reporting on the public safety department, Pilz explained that there is a “...three month turn around from the date of the ticket to our use of the fine money.”
    Town accountant, Tamra Hadden, added,“Public safety covers their own expenses, but doesn’t generate enough revenue to cover other general fund expenses.  Public safety generated about $3,000 for the general fund; we anticipated that would be $14,000.”
    Mayor Katie O’Grady asked, “How did we not anticipate that?”
    “Expenses came in,” Pilz said. She also said that another “shortfall [in the budget] was due to there being no General Fund balance” from the prior fiscal year, adding that there were also higher accounting fees and power bills.
    According to Pilz, two future possible sources of revenue are a franchise tax from Northland Cable and a franchise tax from Frontier Communications.  
    “We hope to have a franchise fee from Northland Cable in the future,” said Pilz, and reported that she also is working with the Georgia Municipal Association toward the town receiving their portion of the franchise fee from Frontier.
    Reporting on the public works department, Pilz said,“The budget cuts expenses to the bare bones ... After I cut everything I could, the budget was still about $8,000 to $10,000 over projected revenues.”
    Discussion ensued on ways that expenses could be cut, after Pilz reported that the general fund revenues do not cover expenses. Pilz suggested charging a user fee to residents for street lights, adding that grounds maintenance hours may have to be cut.
Mayor O’Grady asked how much Pilz anticipated having to charge residents for street lights.
    Pilz said, “Ten dollars. We may also have to increase the grounds maintenance fee; ten dollars a month doesn’t pay for those two employees per month.”
    Mayor O’Grady said that she had read about quite a few municipalities who have had to cut off lights.  
    “I’m more inclined to turn off lights rather than add a user fee,” said O’Grady.  
    Pilz said that the street lights were one of the three state-required services that the town provides.  
    “In every situation I know of, citizens pay for the services one way or another,” said Pilz. “We pay $10 a month for grounds maintenance which doesn’t cover expenses to provide that. Citizens purchase water, but that revenue does not cover expenses. Citizens aren’t paying for any of those services.”
    “This can’t go on forever,” said Councilmember Abraham Hollis. “We’re now at a point where we can’t provide these services. If we’re going to be a city, people are going to have to start paying for these services.”
    Mayor O’Grady concurred, stating,“I couldn’t have said it better.”
    “We cannot continue to provide the level of service that we’re providing,” said Pilz, “without not charging taxes.”
    Discussion followed about the possibility of the Town losing its Charter.  O’Grady asked, “Are we obligated to let citizens know the consequences of folding the Charter?  Citizens don’t have a say?”
    Pilz said that the GA Department of Community Affairs “...makes the determination.”
    Hollis said, “Citizens don’t want to go back to where it use to be.  We’re not trying to go back to horse and buggy days.”
    Councilmember Betsy McGriff reminded Council that studies show that street lights deter crime.  
    Addressing Hollis, O’Grady asked, “Do you think we need to call another Town Meeting?” Hollis said, yes.
    O’Grady said, “So, we’re going to propose a tax?”
    Police Chief Paul Motes stated, “I would put it in terms of, these are the services,     here’s what they cost...”.
    O’Grady said, “I propose we get a whole lot more prepared with the facts and figures before we address the town’s people.”
    Councilmember Lisa Ryles reminded Council that “...a user fee needs to be immediately imposed next month.”
    “A $10 user fee and increased water usage in Spring will hold us over,” said Pilz.  “I can’t stress enough how closely we watch the revenues.”
    “Do you think we need to reconsider the water usage fees? asked Ryles. “Should we have gone with the higher rate?”
    Pilz answered, “Yes.  Our water department has no reserves.”
    Council discussed maintenance issues with the water department such as “crumbling valves”.
    O’Grady called for a motion to add a street light fee to the water bills.  Motion to begin charging a ten dollar street light user fee next month was passed unanimously.
    To save money, council discussed possibility of turning off some selected street lights, asking Chief Motes to review this and make a recommendation.
    O’Grady called for a motion to approve the budget amendments, then concurred through Pilz that such approval could be postponed until February’s council meeting.

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