The Athens City Council is preparing to vote on a measure to encourage future council members to roll back a proposed increase in the city’s property tax rate.
The Athens City Council will vote on the second and final reading of the city’s 2021-22 budget on Tuesday night. The budget includes an 8-cent property tax rate increase.
The proposed tax increase is intended to fund a group of capital projects through a $7.5 million loan. The loan will fund street improvements in the area of the city’s new consolidated elementary school building, a fire training facility, a new animal shelter facility and renovations at both the Athens Public Works and municipal buildings.
A companion resolution will also be included on Tuesday night’s agenda to recommend that, if approved on final reading of the budget, the tax increase be removed once debt service on the loan has been satisfied.
Currently, an increase of 8 cents in the city’s property tax rate generates an estimated $400,000. If approved by the council, the companion resolution recommends that the property tax rate be reduced by the amount necessary at that time to generate $400,000.
City Manager C. Seth Sumner, who, along with Finance Director Mike Keith, drafted the resolution, explained during Monday’s council study session that it was written to establish that “it is this council’s intent that when the debt service is paid off, whatever that amount is at that time — whenever that is, 15, 20, 25 years — that that council can (and) should roll that amount of tax off.”
This “sunset clause” was originally proposed during budget negotiations by Vice Mayor Mark Lockmiller.
“I don’t want to raise taxes just for the sake of raising taxes,” said Lockmiller during Monday’s study session. “If we raise taxes for these five projects, the five projects get paid off and then we keep the tax up, then that’s exactly what we did — we raised taxes just to raise taxes — and I don’t want that for the citizens.”
Lockmiller said this resolution would communicate to the citizens of Athens about the tax increase that “it has an end. It’s not permanent.”
“I think it projects the good intent of this council to do that,” added Mayor Bo Perkinson, “but it also hopefully will notify a future council — whether that’s 10, 15, 20 years down the road — that this is in place and it doesn’t legally or any other way obligate them, but it tells them that was our intent here at this point. … I think it is certainly an expression of what this council feels like needs to be done when that debt is paid off.”