For a fifth straight year, the Oxford City Council is expected to vote Monday to raise the city’s millage rate to make up for declining property values.
The council already approved a $4.53 million budget for fiscal year 2014, which began July 1, but will vote on the millage rate Monday, when the council is expected to increase the rate from 7.6 to 7.85.
The budget includes several special projects including sidewalks, expanding the sewer system, water line replacement, citywide wireless access and possible landscaping for a new entrance for Oxford College.
Millage rate increase
The millage rate increase is known as the rollback rate — it’s sometimes called the "rollup" rate when the tax rate increases — and is the rate that keeps property tax revenues the same from year to year by accounting for property value increases or decreases.
Oxford’s millage rate has slowly increased over the years from 5.33 in 2008 to 6.28 in 2010 to 7.6 last year, while the city’s tax digest — the value of all land, buildings and vehicles — has declined from $29.75 million in 2008 to $15.32 million in 2013.
The Newton County Board of Commissioners also is considering raising its millage rate to the rollback rate, but is facing significant public opposition.
Oxford Mayor Jerry Roseberry said the city has used the rollback rate as far back as he can remember, though he didn’t know if the city used it when property values were increasing. However, the city also passed a $10,000 homestead exemption years ago, which reduces the tax bills of homeowners who have their primary homes in Oxford.
A small percentage of Oxford’s budget is paid for by property taxes, and the city only expects to collect $120,316 in 2013. The majority of the city’s budget, $2.47 million, comes from its sales of electricity. The city transfers $787,141 from the electricity fund to its general operating fund and its capital projects fund. The city of Covington is similar in that it subsidizes its budget with sales of electricity and gas as opposed to collecting more in property tax revenues.
In addition to covering day-to-day operations, Oxford’s 2013-2014 budget includes several plans to improve the city’s infrastructure.
One of the most expensive is a potential $600,000 project — though that figure is very preliminary — meter reading system and a citywide wireless Internet system.
The smart meter system would allow meters to be read remotely, allow the city to track usage more effectively and potentially identify water leaks and allow the city utility superintendent to remotely close and open switches in the utility systems, Roseberry said.
If the city does install smart meter-reading technology, Roseberry said the city has been told there wouldn’t be much extra cost to install a city wireless Internet system at the same time.
He said the goal is to have both the meter technology and wireless Internet cover the entire city.
Another major project, which will take place over the next several years, is to expand city sewer service to the entire city.
Roseberry said he believes around 75 percent of the city is currently covered by public sewer, but he wants to see the rest of the city converted because Oxford has many areas that don’t drain well, which can cause septic tanks to malfunction.
"It’s a health issue. The land in Oxford is an issue because it does not percolate very well. After rainstorms, pools of water are standing everywhere. Septic tanks need to be built where there is good percolation," Roseberry said.
The city has $250,000 set aside in the capital budget this year for the expansion but hopes to leverage local money by finding a state or federal grant to cover part of the costs.
The city recently completed its water project on Cook Road, which improved water pressure to the area; Roseberry said the Newton County Fire Department had told some commercial customers in the area they wouldn’t be allowed to expand until the water pressure was increased. The project was jointly paid for by Oxford and the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority. Oxford’s share was $195,333. The work was completed around a month ago, and the payment will take place in this fiscal year.
The city also hopes to do long-awaited water-line replacements along Emory and Asbury streets, which have 80- to 90-year-old pipes.
The $1 million-plus project was on the 2011 SPLOST, and the city will loan some money to its SPLOST fund, $400,000, to start the project now and will add money back into the city’s coffers as SPLOST revenues are collected.
Multiple sidewalks will also be added. The city is paying $50,000 and using a $200,000 state grant to build a sidewalk from the north side of I-20 to Oxford City Hall on West Clark Street.
The sidewalk will tie into the planned pedestrian bridge to be built parallel to the existing bridge over I-20.
The goal is to allow residents and Oxford College students easier pedestrian access to Covington’s commercial corridor.
Another sidewalk plan will extend the existing sidewalk on Emory Street from the former Palmer Stone Elementary building north to link up to neighborhoods there. Roseberry said officials want to give those residents a way to get to the town’s center.
Finally, another sidewalk will be installed on Moore Street between Haygood Avenue and Cook Road. Roseberry said the sidewalk would increase access to the trail system, which intersects with Moore Street and would also increase access to Oxford College’s gym, tennis courts and soccer field.
The city has a total of $200,000 set aside for sidewalk projects.
Oxford also is considering whether to make Whatcoat Street the main entrance to Oxford College, instead of Pierce Street, which doesn’t provide the entrance school officials want. Possible designs were presented at city hall Friday. The city budgeted $50,000 for the potential project.
Hamill Street used to be the college’s main entrance but isn’t used as much since the school shut down vehicular access to the quad area.