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Gainesville proposes tax rate increase to fund public safety raises, transportation
Gainesville Public Safety Complex_0001.jpg

Gainesville officials are proposing a 0.5-mill increase in the city’s property tax rate to fund transportation projects and raises for public safety workers as part of the city’s $40.2 million budget.

There is not a water or sewer rate increase in the proposed budget, which was presented at the City Council’s work session on Thursday, May 31.

The city’s informational video on the proposed budget explains that for every city tax dollar, 30 cents goes to general operations, including Gainesville Police; 44 cents to the fire department and 26 cents to parks and recreation. The millage rate increase would add 17 cents to that dollar — 11 cents for transportation, four for public safety and two for general operations. That would provide the city with $2.3 million in additional revenue to invest.

The proposed millage increase would result in a $100 tax increase for someone with a $200,000 home.

Gainesville’s population has grown from about 35,000 in 2010 to an estimated 41,000 people now, and the city needs to invest in transportation and public safety to meet the needs of that growing population, City Manager Bryan Lackey said. While the millage rate has declined over the past few years, those decreases are not sustainable, Lackey said.

“To be able to do the things we do, in order to invest in our community, we are proposing a half mill increase in our property tax rate so we can have the investments we need in transportation and public safety … That level of rolling back is just not sustainable to do the things we need to do, the things you’ve talked about, the vision that you have for the city of Gainesville,” he said at Thursday’s work session.

Transportation priorities include the Dawsonville Highway connector, Highlands to Islands Trail, roundabouts on Green Street and Park Hill Drive improvements. The city also plans to upgrade network security, upgrade police and fire radios, and replace police and fire equipment. The city will likely add a fifth fire station within the next few years and will focus on planning for that, although a site has not been finalized, Lackey said.

Gainesville will be investing in competitive salaries for public safety personnel to retain employees who may otherwise leave for another position in the private or public sector. City officials had previously discussed making compensation for public safety employees a priority in the budget.

Lackey said officials began the budget process in February and after seeking input from city departments and the community, the city decided on five budget priorities: relief of traffic congestion; infrastructure; housing; employee compensation and benefits; and transportation alternatives, especially the Highlands to Islands Trail, a trail that will connect downtown Gainesville and the Rock Creek Greenway to the University of North Georgia’s Gainesville campus.

Lackey said that other cities may use reserve funds to avoid increasing millage rates, but Gainesville invests surplus funds. The city’s budgeted fund balance for the proposed budget is $3.5 million.

“We don’t have a large surplus of fund balance that we can dip into,” Lackey said. “We do keep three months of operating reserve on hand in case we have a bad day or rainy day and need to adjust … Outside of that, we roll everything into capital (projects) for next year.”

The City Council will hold a public hearing about the budget at its meeting on Tuesday, June 5, and will vote on the budget at its June 19 meeting. The city’s new fiscal year will begin July 1.

Gainesville City Council meeting

When: 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 5

Where: Public Safety Complex, 701 Queen City Parkway, Gainesville

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