Reynolds breaks 3-3 tie to raise Bainbridge millage rate

Published 10:04 pm Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Tuesday night, the Bainbridge City Council approved an increased millage rate, effectively raising 3.575 mils to 5.575 mils to increase the city property tax.

Council members voted 3-3 with Mayor Edward Reynolds voting in favor, approving the tax increase. Glennie Bench, Phil Long and Don Whaley voted in favor of the increase, while Roslyn Palmer, Joe Sweet and Luther Conyers voted against the increase.

Before the council voted, City Manager Chris Hobby presented data about Bainbridge’s current financial state. According to that data the sales tax collected in Bainbridge decreased from almost $2 million in 2009 to $1.7 million in 2013, and it is projected to decrease again this year.

Hobby said that it is projected that the city will “end this fiscal year with $317,000 in available cash.”

“That’s less than half a month operating cash. That is critical,” Hobby said.

Hobby and the council have recognized that the city’s current financial situation is due to a flat lining and then decrease in the sales tax. The cause of the decrease is due to multiple reasons including a the new motor vehicle tax collection process that did not help as intended as well as GATE cards.

“Georgia Agricultural Tax Exemption cards are wrought with fraud. They’re being used fraudulently, but (the Department of Revenue has) no way to police it,” Hobby said. “That is primarily affecting rural Georgia.”

Citizens were given the chance to voice their thoughts and concerns about the proposed millage increase at two public hearings last week and again last night. Mayor Reynolds and Councilwoman Glennie Bench also addressed several questions on the city’s Facebook page earlier this week.

“The things being brought up are things we’ve already discussed,” Bench said. “There was some research done before we made the proposal. I don’t think we can avoid a two mil increase. The cash position we’re in is bad.”

“I pointed out some things that I was told were small things and we needed to cut big things,” Councilwoman Roslyn Palmer said. “To me, if you cut enough small things, maybe we wouldn’t have had to ask for two mils. I had suggested we go with one mil and see what happens. With utility increases coming, I think it’s just more than we should ask of our residents. We cut back gradually on millage, but we’re adding it all back at one time. I just don’t think it’s fair.”

Councilman Luther Conyers agreed, saying that he had not heard a single citizen express support for the millage increase.

“In every home in Bainbridge and in every business located in Bainbridge, people are sitting down with their calculators and bills figuring out how their money is going to be spread to pay the bills that don’t stop coming,” said Bainbridge citizen Scott Herrick. “They’re figuring out how they can make ends meet or if they can make ends meet. They however don’t have someone else’s pocket to dip into. They can’t go to their bosses or customers and demand a 56 percent increase in pay or price. The city should live under the same reality.”