Porterdale City Council took its first steps toward a 35% property tax rate hike this week but not before hearing a litany of complaints about it from residents and former elected officials.
Former mayor Bobby Hamby and former councilwoman Kay Piper were among the speakers opposing the increase as the council hosted the first two of three public hearings on the proposed tax increase Monday, July 27.
Council members approved a tentative rate of 18.072 mills that is a 4-mill increase from the 2019 rate of 14.072 mills.
It is also 35.62% above the full rollback rate of 13.325 mills — which state law requires governments to calculate to produce the same amount of revenue from property taxes if no reassessments had occurred since last year.
Council members have said the increase is needed to help it emerge from almost $1 million in debt that has piled up since 2018.
Hamby — whom current Mayor Arline Chapman defeated in 2011 — said the increase would be a hardship on homeowners on fixed incomes who also have seen their assessments increase in recent years.
“I think y’all really need to look at this,” he said.
He said the council needed to “look at every aspect” of the city’s finances before increasing the property tax rate, including cuts to the police department “and not pick and choose which department you want to punish, if you will.”
The council recently approved a plan proposed by the interim city manager and city clerk to cut expenses by cutting 20% of pay for all city employees and increasing the property tax rate by 2 mills.
However, the council approved a revised plan to include a 20% pay cut for all city workers except the police department — in addition to the 4-mill increase.
The city manager and clerk subsequently announced they were resigning from their jobs in mid-August.
Councilman Lowell Chambers said council members repeatedly received inaccurate budget numbers in past years that led to the council having less revenue than they believed to pay down debt.
He said the property tax increase equated to $10 per month on the city property tax bill on a home with a fair market value of $100,000.
Piper, who served as a council member from 2005 to 2008, said the council needed to redo its action plan so departments other than police do not decrease their service levels as a result of the pay decrease.
If services decrease, the city would lose the "momentum" it has seen in recent years on its commercial and residential revitalization.
She said the council needed to cut the police department somewhat and request the Newton County Sheriff’s Office to assist.
Residents Molly Canfield and Sandra Callahan said the increase would make living in the city unaffordable for those on fixed incomes.
B.J. Sentell agreed an increase would be harmful but said a plan was needed to keep police service at current levels.
And at a morning session, Jesse Ragalado made the dire prediction that a tax increase of the amount proposed would lead to a housing market collapse.
He said the city government needed to file for bankruptcy and Chapman needed to “step down or step up” to fix the city’s finances.
A final Porterdale City Council public hearing on the tax increase is set for Monday, Aug. 3, at 6:30 p.m. at Grace Baptist Church at 474 Crowell Road. The council is scheduled to consider final action on the increase the same night.