PORTERDALE, Ga. — Porterdale City Council on Monday, Aug. 2, cut in half a property tax increase planned to create funding to help pay off $1 million in debt the city has incurred since 2018.
The council voted for a two-mill increase in the property tax rate Monday rather than a four-mill increase it had tentatively approved July 13.
Council members Mike Harper and Tim Savage were absent from the meeting at Grace Baptist Church, though Savage was absent because of a death in the family, one council member said.
The increase of two mills rather than four likely will affect all city government departments and could lead to service cuts in areas like law enforcement, officials have warned.
Councilman Lowell Chambers said he foresaw “painful cuts” to the 2020 budget when council finally approves it later this year after delaying its passage because of the debt problems.
“The less income there is, the more cuts there will be,” he said.
After a sometimes contentious final public hearing on the proposed 35% tax increase Monday, the council voted 2-0 with one abstention for an increase to 18.072 mills. However, the motion for the increase failed because it needed a majority of all council members — three — to vote for approval.
The council then voted 3-0 to approve an increase to 16.072 mills.
Chambers and other council members have said they repeatedly received inaccurate budget numbers in past years from former city officials that led to Porterdale having less revenue available than they believed they had to pay down the debt.
Officials said $1 million in new funding will be needed to give the city some needed reserves and pay off debts the city owes to a variety of agencies, such as the Newton County Water & Sewerage Authority and the Newton County Water Resources department.
The interim city manager and city clerk in early July proposed a three-year plan to generate the money through a combination of drastic cuts in expenses and additional revenue from annual property tax increases.
Among the plan’s expense reductions were a 20% decrease in Porterdale employees’ pay this year. New revenue would come from increases in the property tax rate by one to two mills annually at least for the next two years, the plan proposed.
However, the council approved a revised plan to include a 20% pay cut for all city workers except the police department — in addition to a four-mill tax increase this year.
The city manager and clerk subsequently announced they were resigning from their jobs in mid-August.
The informal nature of the meeting Monday night led some in the audience to loudly voice their displeasure at council members at times during discussion of the proposed tax increase.
Councilwoman Linda Finger said the mood of the crowd was decidedly different from a July 13 public hearing where most who spoke said they supported a four-mill increase as part of a plan to keep six police officers on the payroll.
She said she had not supported increasing property taxes throughout her time on the council until this year because she was “looking at what we’re facing.”
“This elected body is not responsible,” she told the crowd. “The facts will come out.”
Heather Leon, an Elm Street resident, told council members she believed the council should find a way to keep the city’s police department in place despite the financial problems.
She said she believed the city should declare bankruptcy rather than increasing taxes or cutting police service.
However, city attorney Timothy Chambers said state law prohibits Georgia cities from filing bankruptcy to absolve them of debt.
Jamichael Stinson said a 35% increase could make the city unaffordable for young families and leave it populated only by seniors and those who could afford the property taxes.
Randy Gose said the police department should be funded — as did Michael Patterson who also said he wanted city officials to be more transparent about the city’s direction.
“We desperately need to keep the police department, but also Public Works,” he said.
“I do not want Porterdale to be on the news as defunding their police force,” he said.
Ron Miller said the city had assets it could use to sell or lease o create additional revenue.
He suggested the council delay approval of a property tax rate until it could better organize how it should pay down the debt without raising taxes.
But Mayor Arline Chapman and Timothy Chambers responded the council needed to approve a property tax rate Aug. 3 to meet a Georgia Department of Revenue deadline for certification of the rate.
City Clerk Linda Hanna said the two-mill increase equated to an additional $8.30 per month on the property tax bill for a home valued at $150,000.