At Porterdale City Council's regular meeting Monday night several community residents braved torrential rain and lightning to voice their concerns about the millage rate hike during a public hearing.
Residents asked why taxes were going up while property valuations had decreased and what the council was doing to attract more businesses in order to generate revenue.
Council member responses explained how the total assessed value of homes in Porterdale decreased 32.27 percent from 2009 to 2010 - leaving a budget hole of $103,617.22 for the remainder of FY10 and necessitating a need for a millage increase.
"I will say that this council has worked really hard," said Mayor Bobby Hamby at Monday's public hearing. "We have been able to maintain services and keep the city operating without having to lay off employees."
City Manager Bob Thomson explained at a June work session that the city has changed health insurance plans to save money, has not filled two positions in the public works department and needs two more police officers based on the town's crime rates. Police Chief Wayne Digby confirmed that according to a formula devised by the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police, Porterdale was operating two officers short.
In June, Thomson presented the council with a cross section of real assessed values of homes in Porterdale so they could see the impact of increased millage rates on homeowners. A home on Magan Court with an assessed value of $36,467, on the high end for Porterdale, would pay $145.87 more than last year at a 4 mill increase. A home on Ivy Street with a low-end assessed value of $10,485 would see a $38.16 increase over last year's bill. He said the average increase for homeowners is around $80, which will be offset by a city homestead tax exemption that was approved by the state legislature this year and can be applied for in 2011 if approved by voters in a November referendum.
Hamby addressed residents concerns about lack of businesses by saying that the city was taking measures to attract businesses but that many franchises were not looking to expand in the current economy.
"The more we can get the town in better shape and the more we have to attract people in, the more businesses we'll get," Hamby said adding that if the economy improves in the future that the council would consider lowering the rate.
Although the second public hearing Monday was well attended, Tuesday's third and final reading, public hearing and vote occurred with attendance by one resident who regularly attends council meetings. The increase was approved three to one with Linda Finger opposing and Lowell Chambers not present.
In other news from Porterdale City Council's regular meeting, special called meeting and work session members voted to pass along an increase in wholesale water rates to town residents. Information about the new rates will go out in residents' next water bills. The council also approved lowering the minimum amount charged for residential customers from 3,000 gallons to 2,000 gallons. The new rates for water for are $6.60 per 1,000 gallons for residential customers and $7.25 for commercial customers; new sewer rates are $7.27 per 1,000 gallons for residential customers and $7.98 for commercial customers. Tap fees also increased.
• The council also held a third and final reading of a revised sanitation ordinance as well at a public hearing. The revised ordinance and resolution passed afterward sets a fee schedule for household and yard waste exceeding 35 cubic feet, or a small pick up truck load, and for bulk items. Household and yard waste between 36 and 84 cubic feet will incur an extra $25 fee over the $20 a month charge; 85 to 168 cubic feet, $50, 169 to 252 cubic feet, $75; and 253 to 336 cubic feet, $100. Bulk items such as furniture and large appliances will still be picked up, but only after a resident makes prior arrangements and pays a fee of $5 per item.
• All council members expressed delight with the turn out of the Fourth of July festival and fireworks show. The city used no taxpayer dollars for the event, which was made possible by $15,000 in donations from community residents and businesses. Councilman Robert Foxworth was responsible for soliciting $11,000 of those donations. Events committee chair Holly Cripps said 31 vendors participated in the festival and approximately 12,500 people visited downtown that Sunday with more watching the fireworks show from outlying areas such as Newton High School's parking lot. Mayor Bobby Hamby led the pyrotechnics crew. Police Chief Wayne Digby said no arrests were made or tickets issued during the event.
• The council approved paying 80 percent of city employees' health insurance costs instead of 60 percent. The city recently changed providers and are paying less for the coverage. City Clerk Judy Johnson estimated that the city would pay around $5,000 more per year by footing a larger percentage of the insurance costs.
• The council approved taking out a Tax Anticipation Loan in the amount of $100,000 in order to pay vendors who provide services to the city. Because the council is on a calendar budget cycle rather than a fiscal year, it has had to resort to these loans for the past few years in the down economy. The loan must be paid back by Dec. 31 and cannot exceed 75 percent of the expected tax revenue.
• Langford Holbrook of The Fanning Institute attend the Tuesday work session to give council members preliminary information on the work the organization will be doing on updating the city's comprehensive plan. He encouraged the council to organize a "visioning" committee made up of city stakeholders. He estimated that the plan would be ready to submit to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs by Thanksgiving. Municipalities must have an approved comprehensive plan and update it every 10 years in order to be eligible for DCA grant funding.
Porterdale's next work session will be held at 6:30 p.m. June 22 at Porterdale City Hall.