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Gainesville council OKs tax rate roll-up
Move raises millage rate to an estimated 3.06 mills
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In other business

There was no opposition Monday night to an annexation request that clears the way for construction to begin on a shopping center near New Holland Mill.

City Council members voted 4-0 to provide the annexation and zoning approval to a 68-acre site off Limestone and Jesse Jewell parkways that property owner Pacolet Milliken Enterprises plans to turn into an upscale shopping center.

Michael D. McNicholas, a spokesman for developer Carolina Holdings Inc., said the first phase of the project is expected to bring 150 new jobs to Gainesville.

With council’s approval, construction could begin in September, with the center possibly opening by February 2014.

City Council members praised the plans as a big step forward.

“All I can think of when I see this (plan) is ‘Santa Claus is coming to town,’” said Councilman George Wangemann.

City of Gainesville residents can expect an increase in property tax rates as Gainesville City Council passed a millage rate roll-up Tuesday for the next fiscal year.

City Council voted 3-1 for a roll-up that is estimated to change the rate from the current 2.92 mills to 3.06 mills.

“This council does not take this roll-up easily,” said Mayor Danny Dunagan, explaining the reason for the roll-up.

“We’ve done everything we can possibly do to streamline government. I don’t want to roll (the tax rate) up either. I want to roll them back. But it is what it is.”

The well-attended meeting included public comment, both from city and noncity residents. However, the message from the public was evenly split for and against the increase of the tax rate.

“I feel the City Council is deaf to the citizens’ concerns,” said Gainesville resident Theresa Webb, who argued that the city should live within its means like residents are having to do in the lagging economy.

“We as voters are tired of living under a different set of rules than elected officials,” she said.

Chris Romberg, who sits on the city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, spoke in favor of the roll-up as a way to pay for necessary services.

The roll-up is intended to keep revenues from property taxes the same as last year as the overall tax digest continues to shrink.

It means a higher tax rate. However, it doesn’t legally qualify as a tax increase. Depending on the valuations of individual properties, the amount owners pay could go up or down.

Property taxes make up about 19 percent of the proposed $28 million budget.

Councilman George Wangemann was the lone dissenting vote on the council Tuesday, reversing his previous support for the budget. Bob Hamrick, who had questioned the need for a roll-up at Thursday’s work session, was absent.

Wangemann said he’s received more phone calls from residents opposed to the roll-up than he has gotten on other topics in years.

“With all the calls I’ve received from our citizens, I’ve had a slight change of heart,” said Wangemann.

In lieu of a roll-up, Wangemann proposed keeping the millage rate the same. Instead of making any cuts to the proposed budget, he said the city should use its reserves to make up the difference. Hamrick made a similar recommendation last week.

However, Wangemann’s motion for keeping the current millage rate was not seconded. It died without a vote.

City Councilwoman Ruth Bruner said she couldn’t support Wangemann’s proposal because it did not address all of the needs that a roll-up would address.

Dunagan provided a statement outlining the purpose of the roll-up.

In it, he said the council had asked for three things in the fiscal year 2013 budget: to maintain service levels, address needs to replace some high-mileage police cars and resurface roads, and ensure employee retention through a 3 percent cost-of-living adjustment.

“During the budget process, we strive to balance the needs of our citizens while remaining a financially responsible city,” the mayor said.

Addressing criticism that the city had been fiscally irresponsible, the mayor pointed to past measures that have included furloughs, workforce reductions and benefit cuts.

City Council will hold public hearings on the budget later this month.