ALBANY, Ga. -- For lack of four votes needed to give nonbinding approval, the Albany City Commission failed at its work session Tuesday morning to agree on an acceptable plan that would allow the city to increase its occupational tax fees.
The city's Finance department had sought increases in the yearly fees charged businesses to operate in the city, asking for increases from $100 to $150 for smaller businesses and a maximum of $9,000, from $7,600, for the city's largest businesses.
"Contrary to what was said at the meeting this morning, we did not increase the occupational taxes when we changed the system five years ago," city Finance Director Kris Newton said Tuesday afternoon. "We'd actually asked the commission to increase the fees, but they asked us to calculate figures (based on gross revenue) that would make it work out as close to the same as possible.
"They actually ended up dropping the minimum fee from $150 to $100."
Ward IV Commissioner Roger Marietta said the $50 increase "seems high," and after hearing a presentation by Treasury Manager Ava O'Neal, who said the cost of processing the occupational taxes exceeded the cost of the tax, offered a motion that the fees be increased to $125 on small businesses and a maximum of only $8,000. He also asked that future increases by tied to the Consumer Price Index.
"When we changed (in 2007) to the current occupational tax system (from business licensing), I heard a number of complaints," Marietta said. "And I know people are going to scream bloody murder if we do what's being recommended by staff. I just think the $50 increase seems high."
Ward VI Commissioner Tommie Postell offered a different opinion.
"I know of businesses that just don't pay their occupational tax each year; they've been operating under a license with the same date for five years," he said. "I don't see why we can't do what staff is suggesting. This is the 21st century, not the 19th century."
Marietta's motion was defeated by a 2-3 vote (Mayor Dorothy Hubbard and Ward II Commissioner Ivey Hines were absent), and Postell's alternate motion that staff's recommendation be accepted failed to get the necessary four votes.
Commissioners listened to a presentation by Dan McCarthy with the Albany Housing Authority on plans to demolish 125 low-income housing units in the gang-infested CME neighborhood near Albany High School and Hugh Mills Stadium and replace them with rent-controlled public housing as well as other moderately priced housing units that would rent at a level that the market would bear.
The project, which would be mostly financed through an HUD-funded Choice Neighborhoods Implementation Grant if approved by that agency, would be called the Oaks at North Intown.
McCarthy said the concept behind the project, which includes ongoing upgrades on existing homes in the neighborhood, is to create a "deconcentration" of low-income housing units in the area that includes homes on Society, Tift, Madison and Davis avenues, and to bring a more mixed-level population in the area.
McCarthy presented the city a $106,000 check for what he called payment in lieu of taxes.
Commissioners also failed to come to a consensus on what to do with some $200,000 in expected revenue that would be generated by a 1 percent increase in hotel/motel taxes in the city. Staff had suggested that the funds be added to the $725,000 currently generated from the hotel/motel tax (the city's 50-50 split with the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce) to offset what Newton said is an almost $800,000 yearly shortfall in running the Albany Civic Center.
Marietta asked that the funding be split four ways, with $50,000 each going to the Civic Center, the Flint RiverQuarium, the Civil Rights Institute and the Thronateeska Heritage Center.
"That way, we wouldn't have to go through that dog-and-pony show (of funding requests) every year," Marietta said.
Ward V Commissioner Bob Langstaff, the mayor pro tem who led the meeting in Hubbard's absence, suggested that the additional funds be directed for use to cut into costs of running the Civic Center, which was staff's recommendation.
"Even if one of us presents a proposal to use money for some other function and gets three other votes, we can move money from the general fund that would be freed up by putting the $200,000 into the Civic Center," he said. "If we decide to specifically give a certain amount of money to these other entities, we'll never be able to change it. Staff's recommendation gives us the most flexibility."
Marietta offered a motion calling for the four-way split of the funding, which died for lack of a second. Postell's motion to follow staff recommendations and earmark the funds to the Civic Center got only three votes.
The commission tentatively voted to renew the city's contract with federal lobbyist Marion Turner for six months and to look into the possibility of ending its contract at the end of that period as a cost-cutting measure; offered nonbinding 4-1 votes to approve an alcohol license transfer and two alcohol license applications; approved a request for a motorcade by the Remaining Few Motorcycle Club, and refused to hear a complaint from L2 Networks technician Haryl Dabney.
Postell wanted to allow Dabney to discuss an incident in which one of L2's staff members was apparently hit by a Water, Gas & Light Commission vehicle, but commissioners refused to add the item to the agenda.
At a special called meeting, the commission voted to authorize an intergovernmental agreement with the Dougherty County Commission to collect a 2 percent energy excise tax on businesses in the county.