COVINGTON, Ga. - Members of the Covington City Council voted unanimously Monday evening to take the rollback millage rate, which will drop what would have been a tax increase for its residents.
Councilman Susie Keck, who Skyped in for the meeting, said the city was originally considering maintaining its same millage rate from the previous fiscal year - 7.654 mils - but with the increase in home values, residents would see a tax increase. Using the rollback rate accounts for that increase in value and City Manager Leigh Anne Knight said residents will still see a small increase, but not the $9.64 per $100,000 that was originally proposed.
"I want whatever we can do to not charge customers more tax because their property values have gone up," Keck said. "I would like for us to adjust so that we work off what we had last year and if that means dipping into our $470-something-thousand contingency, I'm for that."
The current millage rate would have provided a tax levy of $5,477,437, Knight said. Taking the rollback rate - which is 7.413 mils - will levy $5,304,970, a $172,467 decrease.
"The last, I know two, maybe three years, we've gone with the current millage rate," Knight said.
Mayor Ronnie Johnston said the decision has changed year to year since he has been in office.
"One year we cut it by half a mil, one year we took the rollback," he said. "Every other year besides that, we've stayed the same millage rate."
Councilman Josh McKelvey said since he has been in office, he has voted both ways on the issue, depending on the situation at the time.
"I remember my first year, I came in and said 'No' and then the second and third year, after going to some training sessions and talking to some older guys at GMA (Georgia Municipal Association) that had been through this, they said, 'We used to cut our rate every time we had the chance and then the recession hit us and we had to raise our rate in the middle of the recession,'" he said. "That's not wise and we have to think about that. A year ago, I discussed trying to keep spending levels where they're at and I think we've done that.
"I think sticking with the rollback rate this go-around is going to send a message and make sure that we all take a serious next year that we've got to get this done and we have got to make sure this happens. If we just keep spending and getting used to new revenue coming in ... we've got to get more serious about it."
"The budget was based on last year's actual digest," Randy Smith, Covington finance director, said.
Knight said the digest is not available at the time the budget has to be completed, so that is why the previous year's digest information is used.
"People listen to the word 'increase' and they go crazy," Councilwoman Hawnethia Williams said.
Councilman Anthony Henderson agreed that the rollback rate was the best option for the city this fiscal year.