After a vigorous, emphatic debate by councilmembers, the Conyers city council voted to raise the millage rate slightly by 0.49 mills to 9.9 mills in a 3-2 vote, with Marty Jones and Chris Bowen voting against, at the Tuesday night meeting. Members Gerald Hinesley, Vince Evans, and Cleveland Stroud voted for the 9.9 mill rate. Mayor Randy Mills was not present.
The budget was built with a 5 percent decline projected in the tax digest, but the city saw a 5.5 percent decline instead - about a $30,000 difference.
Jones argued that if the city raised the millage rate to 9.9 instead of keeping it at 9.41, it would only be putting the additional money collected - about $200,000 - in reserves. That amount could be saved in other ways already proposed by the city staff, he said. The staff had proposed changes to sanitation collection that would reportedly net about $300,000 in the second half of this fiscal year.
"If you wanted to make up the 0.5 percent on millage rate, I can't quibble with that," said Jones. But he said he could not support collecting $200,000 in taxes when the city was already saving that amount. "You want to save it and take it?" he asked incredulously.
Evans said the city had spent $200,000 in overtime expenses last year for police officers. "From a public safety standpoint, I don't want to say we need three more officers but we don't have the budget to do it."
Jones pointed out that if the city council wanted to put away additional money for public safety expenses, the time to do that was during budget debates in June - not during the millage rate setting.
He also pointed out the city had given a 5 percent raise to city employees this year and had no furloughs. "I'm not arguing with (whether) they need it or deserve it," he said. But "we have not cut our services to the bone."
Hinesley said setting the rate at 9.9 would bring in a little less revenue than last year and would bring the city to 2007 levels for revenue.
He said he didn't want the city to get to a point where it would need to raise the millage rate sharply, as it did when it increased about 30 percent from 2005 to 2006.
Stroud said "We need to raise it a little... I think the citizens of Conyers trust us to be fiscally responsible... I think citizens expect a level of service." He said in case of a catastrophe, the city's reserves would be impacted.
He said the increase would represent about $30 for a $200,000 home.
Jones said later in the discussion, "I don't care if it's $5 per house. If you don't need it, you don't take it."
Bowen said he had been on the fence about whether or not to raise the rate last year and was again on the fence this year, but ended up voting with Jones for keeping the millage rate the same, which was defeated 2-3, and against raising the millage rate, which passed 3-2.