Snellville adopts higher millage rate

SNELLVILLE — After holding several town hall meetings and public hearings, Snellville officials Monday voted 4-2 to raise the city’s millage rate to 5.9, resulting in about $108 per year increase on a $150,000 home.

According to Councilman Tod Warner, the city has put off spending money for years on things like road improvements and other capital expenditures, all because of the economic slump and the former council’s reluctance to raise taxes. Warner added that with no inter-governmental transfers, such as state grant money for those road improvements, the city has to find a way to meet its expenses.

Councilman Tom Witts spoke strongly in favor of the tax hike Monday, stating that it’s been “politically correct” to tell citizens for years that their taxes will not go up, but the city has suffered as a result.

“We have paid the lowest taxes (in the county), and we’ve lost the most money,” said Witts, referring to the 30 percent average home value loss in Snellville over the past 5 years.

Mayor Pro Tem Barbara Bender added that making the decision to raise the millage rate was a difficult one, but “if a city or business can’t meet its operating expenses, you can’t keep the doors open. There’s just not enough money coming in.”

The higher property tax rate is intended to support the upcoming fiscal year’s budget.

Councilwoman Kelly Kautz and Councilman Mike Sabbagh both voted against the millage rate increase. Kautz said that she is sure that further cuts can be made in the proposed budget, and Sabbagh said that he wants city officials to consider charging Snellville property owners for sanitation service. Currently, the cost of that service is included in property taxes.

Kautz also said that the National Citizens Survey, for which the city paid $10,000, reflects raw data that indicates 60 percent of Snellville citizens do not want a property tax increase.

One of the budget line items being discussed Monday was the hiring of an economic development manager, with an annual salary of $52,000 per year plus benefits. Some citizens said Monday that it seems like an unnecessary expense in light of the tough economy. Witts stated that the city has spent $14,000 on economic development over the past five years, “and it shows. We have to stop the bleeding of our properties.”

A final vote on approval of the fiscal year 2011 budget will be held June 21.