ALBANY, Ga. -- The Albany City Commission will hold three public hearings to gather comments from the public before considering a 1.33 mill increase in property taxes.
The first two hearings will be held on Tuesday -- one at 8:30 a.m. and the other at 6 p.m. at the government center -- with the third coming at 8 p.m. on July 24 at the start of the commission's monthly business meeting.
Hearings are required by state law any time that a local government considers raising property taxes.
The tax increase comes as the city is trying to close a $2 million budget gap even after city officials have taken measures to pull in additional revenues. City Manager James Taylor has already siphoned funding from the Sewer Enterprise Fund and is proposing a withdrawal of $2.5 million from the city's reserve fund. Still, there is not enough.
"We're trying to avoid having to go back to the well again and I think that's something we can avoid," Taylor said Friday.
City officials have attempted to justify the increase based on a number of increased-cost factors including a gang unit that was never properly tied to a funding mechanism like a tax increase and is now pulling more than $1 million annually out of the city's general fund, a shrinking tax digest exacerbated by the loss of key industries over the last decade and a sharp increase in the price of petroleum products.
Taylor has also unveiled a five-year plan that will attempt to rein in spending to pre-recession levels.
Beginning in 2013, the plan focuses on ways the city can increase its revenues and cut expenses. Those include reviewing and updating the city's fee structure for things like business licenses and construction permits, and increasing the city's ability to allow online purchases.
The plan also includes a review of the city's health plan to reduce the portion that the taxpayers have to foot as a way to reduce expenses; review the fund that the city uses to make capital purchases, and create a joint proposal that would require approval of the city, county and school board when any payment in lieu of taxes is approved.
The plan also supports creation of a policy reviewing the city's take-home vehicle policy and the use of city equipment for outside employment, as well as the creation of a policy that would require commission approval on all intergovernmental agreements beginning in 2013.
By 2014, Taylor wants a new review of the city's reserve fund; a review of a proposal to increase the city's hotel/motel taxes, and a review of the city's tree cutting policy.
The list would also have the commission and staff renegotiate the agreement with Dougherty County on how much sales taxes each should get under the Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) contract in 2014, as well as adopt a policy that would formalize the re-evaluation of tax exempt properties and create a database or list of non-profit organizations that voluntarily agree to make payments in lieu of taxes to the city.
The further in time the list goes, the more ambitious its goals.
By 2015, Taylor wants the city to have thoroughly researched possible conversion of all city vehicles to compressed natural gas, and to sell under utilized city property, such as parks and vacant lots.
By 2017, the plan is to reduce the number of city staff from 930 to 871; increase residential development and expand the city's current infrastructure to grow its tax base.