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Albany City Commission takes preliminary budget vote

— After lengthy debate, the Albany City Commission took its first preliminary vote on a 2013 fiscal budget that includes a 1.33 millage increase for residents of the city.

If formally adopted, the tax increase would mean about $53 more on the tax bill of someone whose property was worth $100,000, City Manager James Taylor said.

Ward IV Commissioner Roger Marietta, who along with Commissioner Jon Howard voted against the spending plan and its companion tax increase, vigorously debated against the need for any tax increase.

"I feel like a tax increase should be the absolute last resort," Marietta said. "I don't feel like we've exhausted other alternatives. My constituents don't need or want a tax increase."

Marietta urged Taylor and city staff to take another look at the budget for sales tax collections under the Local Option Sales Tax fund. Marietta pointed to a discrepancy between the amount budgeted and the amount collected for the current fiscal year as a place where they could see a real shift in revenues.

He also suggested the city revisit cutting cell phone usage, take home cars, and cut the city's Capital Improvement's budget by 20 percent and shift those funds into the city's general fund to help bridge the $2 million deficit the city is facing.

Still some on the commission say that, while it's not politically advantageous for any of them to raise taxes, that it needs to be done in order to help mitigate a more ominous financial disaster that is looming on the horizon when a $3 million-dollar-per-year injection of cash into the general fund from the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia dries up.

"No matter how you look at it, we need a millage increase. The only question is how we do it," Ward III Commissioner Christopher Pike said. "Do we raise it incrementally in small pieces that are a little more considerate to the taxpayers or do we wait, and then beat them over the head with a massive increase all at once in three years?"

Ward V Commissioner Bob Langstaff told his fellow commissioners that the city commission essentially voted to increase taxes when it voted roll back the millage three years ago; while also pointing to the city's unusually high number of tax-exempt organizations as one of the main reasons why revenues have steadily dropped.

"We have prolonged the agony. There was really no need to roll back the millage from 10.8 to 8.6 other than to get some folks re-elected," Langstaff said. "The reason for the millage increase is the 24.18 percent of tax exempt properties in this city. If we were like Valdosta-Lowndes who have only 7 percent of tax exempt properties, we could probably afford to roll back the millage again. If we're going to give property away for free, we're going to have to raise the millage."

Currently, the city is trying to close a $2 million budget gap even after city officials have taken measures to pull in additional revenues. 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.

The tentative budget vote comes as the city commission also voted to grant a $150,000 stipend to the Flint RiverQuarium but only if they agree to form a partnership with the Parks at Chehaw.

The city commission is currently the only local government that is providing the downtown educational attraction with funding. The Dougherty County Commission ceased funding two years ago.

Tuesday, commissioners agreed to give the Riverquarium a reduced amount of $150,000 but only if they agree to partially merge with the Parks at Chehaw to help reduce any duplication of services and lower costs.

"Both organizations are AZA certified and the people at Chehaw are trained to work in zoos and aquariums, so I don't see why we can't try to reduce any duplication of services," Langstaff said.

Marietta, who made the motion, suggested that the board give the Riverquarium 90 days to partially combine with Chehaw or risk losing the funding.

Commissioners will have to ratify the vote at a business meeting for it to be binding. The new fiscal year starts July 1.

Comments

Cartman 2 years, 3 months ago

Where does our millage rate stand in relation to other cities in Georgia?

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KaosinAlbany 2 years, 3 months ago

Terrell and Dougherty is one of the highest in the State.

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tocar 2 years, 3 months ago

Once again the 15 percent that are taxpayers will shoulder the budget deficit. What about a tax that will be paid for by all? We are tired of having to support those living off of the system and the streetwalkers. I hope it won't be long before the majority of these 15 percent can be out of here. What will your answers be then? The middle class and below taxpayers are not able to stay here.

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TheMember 2 years, 3 months ago

They need to reduce the millage and increase the consumption tax, that way all pays taxes even the drug dealers who do not pay taxes on their drug deals. Also, it will bring in more money from others who spend in Albany. This should be National.

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KaosinAlbany 2 years, 3 months ago

The City of Albany needs to learn to scale back like all of us have done in these hard economic times. One example is the 311 system that is a WASTE on the taxpayers in the city and county. I am sure there other examples of waste in the City. The commission just wanted to take the easy road and not have to scale back or think, for that matter, on how to get the budget in line without a tax increase. I am sure this will make Lee Co. very desirable for those who are left here paying property taxes.

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chinaberry25 2 years, 3 months ago

If taxes keep going up, rental property will disappear. Most cheaper rental property will no longer be a viable investment. $100/mo potential profit will not be worth its trouble. Next we will hear that it is too expensive for poor to live here. On second thought, maybe that is a good thing. But all said and done, you still need cheaper rental property and the rental rates are going to skyrocket. Folks are not going to be able to live on what the payscale is in Albany.

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VietVet1 2 years, 3 months ago

Spend, spend, spend. Raise taxes so you can spend some more. After all, it's not YOUR bank account. This is the reason Albany (America) can't prosper.

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Outtahere 2 years, 3 months ago

It angers me to know how much money is wasted but the tax payers have to make up the difference. What about the wasted money? Like Kaosin said, 311 serves what purpose again?

It would just be best if all working constituents moved out of Albany. Let's leave them to their mess and their phony budgets. This is so ridiculous!

Who comes up with these hair brained schemes anyway? "Lets spend this here and give this project this much." There have been MANY failed projects that have cost the city a lot of money! Where are the people that made these decisions? Probably, enjoying the promotion they received.

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KaosinAlbany 2 years, 3 months ago

Something that is really concerning is Hubbard made a statement last week that if the County dropped it's funding for 311 then the city WILL pick up the whole tab.

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FryarTuk 2 years, 3 months ago

If Albany and Dougherty County are to survive the citizens must consolidate the city and county into a single municipal government with a CEO structure; make the Sherif's Department an administrative and custodial agency and let the Police be the enforcement department. Finally, we the citizens are going to have to gird our loins and cleanup the public school system mess.

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VietVet1 2 years, 3 months ago

Back in 1997 the city mandated Chehaw Park to stand alone after seven years. But the city is still providing over 1 million a year. If Chehaw, Civic Center & downtown Pond can't support itself cut them lose. Let Albany be like the Boy Scouts - get some leadership.

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