Mayor Ronnie Johnston had to cast the tie vote on whether the City of Covington would roll back its millage rate or leave it at last year’s rate of 7.65 dollars per 1,000 of assessed property values.
Council members Chris Smith, Post 1 East, Josh McKelvey, Post 3 East and Ocie Franklin, Post 3 West, voted against the millage rate, preferring the city adopt the rollback millage rate of 7.512.
When property values increase, governmental entities must either rollback the millage rate to equal the same amount of revenue collected the previous year. If the millage rate remains the same, property owners will see an increase, proportionate to the rise in property value, on their taxes.
Smith said he opposed the increase in taxes because the Newton County School System had already voted to approve a millage rate equal to the amount levied last year. Newton County, which is expected to vote on its millage rate this week, is also expected to collect the same millage rate without using a rollback number.
“I support the rollback rate because it looks like Newton County and Newton County School System will raise [taxes],” Smith said.
When asked, Knight said if the impact on the city if it went with the rollback rate, at some point, money would have to be transferred into the maintenance and operation budget. “We hope valuation continues to rise,” she said. “Over the last three years the [tax] digest has gone up and down and up.”
Johnston said, “We’re trying to increase value. I’d rather leave the millage rate alone instead of raising the tax [rate]. We may be setting ourselves up for hard decisions for the future.”
Over the past five years, the city’s millage rate has dropped from 8.20, levied in 2011 through 2013, to 7.71 in 2014, to 7.65 last year and this year.
One of the things, Johnston said, they wanted to avoid was raising utility rates. “We’re trying to stay competitive in our utility rates. Renters don’t notice property tax, but they do notice utility rate hikes.
The city council also:
• Approved a request, 6-0, for $12,000 for Newton County Tomorrow;
• Held the first reading of an ordinance adding a $35 reconnect fee for utilities turned back on after hours in addition to a $30 daytime reconnect fee for delinquent utility accounts;
• Adopted, 6-0, a policy and standards for wireless facilities installed on rights-of-way;
• Approved, 6-0, a request for a seven day lease of Legion Field Park by S and K Pictures, who want to use the park as a staging ground for equipment, cast and crew. Normally, the maximum days the facility can be leased is four at $1,000 per day. The council voted to extend the lease the three additional days at a cost of $2,000 per day;
• Approved, 6-0, a project, funded by the state, extending sidewalks from Highway 278 south along Turner Lake Road, tying into sidewalks on Clark Street at a cost of $84,645, with the city contributing 30 percent, or around $30,000;
• Approved a road closure for the removal of trees on Elizabeth Street between Floyd Street and Perry Alley on Monday and Tuesday, Aug. 15 and 16 from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.;
• Approved a request for road closure on Friday, Sept. 9 on Oak Street near the police station, from 7 p.m. to noon on Saturday, Sept. 10. Streets along the route, including Conyers Street, Martin Street Southeast, Newton Drive Northeast, East Street Northeast, College Avenue, around the square, finishing on Conyers Street;
• Learned that Main Street America recognized the Covington Independence on the Square celebration as one of the best Main Street Fourths in the country.
• Recognized Hunter Ferrell of the U. S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps, the 233rd Seabee Battalion, and proclaimed Aug. 1, 2016, Hunter Ferrell Day in Covington; and
• Heard City Manager Leigh Anne Knight report the city did not receive the Georgia One grant, which had been combined with the Georgia Department of Transportation grants, for building the airport terminal, and that the city would need to contribute approximately $500,000 to the project, which had been the original intent of the city.