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Posted: August 12, 2009 12:30 a.m.

Increased millage rate concerns many Social Circle residents

Social Circle held its first of three budget hearings for the 2010 budget Monday night, and many residents voiced reservations about the expenditures — particularly in regards to the one mill increase in the millage rate.

The proposed millage rate for 2009 would be 8.411, the first time in five years that the rate has increased.

City Manager Doug White first explained the projected budget, saving the hot-button issue of the millage rate for the latter part of the meeting.

Overall, the budget reflected an 11 percent decrease in overall spending from 2009. Mayor James Burgess was quick to point out that the proposed budget would not include any salary increases and no capital expenditures and that current job vacancies would not be filled.

Burgess also stated that the $1.2 million downtown redesign plan would be funded through grants and that the city council would not increase property taxes to pay for the redesign.

Budget cuts were prominent for the Better Hometown Program, whose budget was cut from $91,800 to $49,000. Public safety also experienced a $100,000 budget cut.

Residents will see a 10 percent increase in water rates for residential properties. The current 2,000 gallon minimum costs $11.80 and will be raised to $13. The cost per 1,000 gallons of water after the first 1,000 will be $3.55.

Though gas revenue fell, which White attributed to warmer winters for the past several years, the city will not be raising the rate for gas. Gas revenue fell by almost $250,000 between fiscal year 2007 and FY2008.

The city also announced it had been taking a loss in consumer revenue for solid waste

collection and disposal, and have been diverting extra money from the general fund to cover the loss. Rates are not slated to increase.

The proposed increase in the millage rate of one mill would generate expected revenue of $154,000 for the city. For a home valued at $100,000, the increase would cost the taxpayer $39.88. According to the council, the average residential property of Social Circle is valued at $85,000.

The council stated they planned to use the revenue from the increased millage rate to secure 185 acres of property along the CSX railroad on West Hightower Road. The city would buy the land through a bank and would use the revenue only to pay interest on the property until a company then purchased it from the city. The bank loan would be expected to last three years at a 3.5 percent interest rate. This purchase would bring the total amount of industrial-zoned land owned by the city up to a 300 acre total.

Council members also stated that purchasing the land would allow them to set the price for the land now in order to avoid having to negotiate prices later. They also stated that the Solo Cup plant and the upcoming General Mills plant would help other Fortune 500 companies see the potential of settling down in Social Circle.

Additionally, the land located next to the railroad would also entice potential buyers, especially after a new $700,000 siding was added off the main line. The cost of the siding would be covered by the county, members of the Downtown Development Authority stated.

The existing commercial and industrial businesses in Social Circle pay 41.73 percent of all city taxes and 44.86 percent of all school taxes. The DDA pointed out that more industry in town would pay even more into those taxes, thus lowering taxes for the residents. In addition, an increase in industry would also bring more jobs to the Social Circle area.

"It’s nothing but a win-win situation for the city of Social Circle," Burgess said.

Many residents reacted negatively to the proposed increase to the millage rate. Some alleged that charging residents more — even one dollar more — in these economic times was unacceptable.

Several others were concerned with whether it was the responsibility of the government to bring the industry to town and whether or not the mayor and city council should only be focused on the day-to-day running of the city.

A handful of other residents protested that they moved to Social Circle because of the schools and the quality of life there and didn’t like the concept of bringing even more industry into Social Circle. Others were concerned that any companies that bought the land would bring workers with them from an old location and would not employ many citizens from the Social Circle area.

The mayor and the members of the city council promised to keep these opinions in mind as they vote on the final budget and millage rate next Tuesday.

Two more hearings are scheduled for the budget. The next will be held at 1:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 17. A final hearing will be held Tuesday, Aug. 18, and afterward the council will have the official meeting to approve a budget.

The full proposed budget is available online at www.socialcirclega.com.

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