When it comes to tax increases, it seems few Gainesville residents have something to say.
At least for now.
The Gainesville City Council held its first of three public hearings Tuesday evening to raise the tax millage rate to help next year’s fiscal budget close a $1.3 million gap between revenues and expenditures. With projected revenue totals at $25 million — or a 1.4 percent decrease from last year — paired with cuts and six layoffs, City Manager Kip Padgett said there’s nowhere else to go.
The proposed increase would bump the millage rate up 0.26 to 1.69, which would mean a $26 increase for every $100,000 worth of property.
Two Gainesville residents responded at the meeting.
“I have one word to say: unacceptable,” Jack Waldrip said. “I think you are doing all you can do in this economy, and I understand what you’re up against. But I believe the citizens deserve tax cuts in this economy.”
Waldrip proposed a consolidated government, challenging the City Council to merge programs and departments with Hall County, and called for a task force to carry out such a move.
“We need to decide to do business a different way,” he said. “The people you represent need tax relief, and anything less than changing the way we think is unacceptable.”
The only other public comment came from George Stump.
“I have one word to say: acceptable,” he said and then walked back to his seat.When asked by The Times to elaborate, Stump said he would speak more extensively at the next public hearing on June 10.
The council voted 4-1 to adopt the first reading, and members gave a few comments.
“I know people pay a lot of taxes, and I don’t want to raise them on myself,” Mayor Pro Tem Danny Dunagan said. “But we have to.”
When it comes to consolidating governments, it’s “hard to dance by yourself,” Councilman Bob Hamrick said.
“We’ve tried to merge services,” he said. “Eight years ago we had a study for consolidation, and it recommended not to pursue it. It was most economic to operate under the system we’re operating under. It seems easy to say ‘merge,’ but that takes time.”
Hamrick cited a decreased tax digest from last year and the main reason why the millage rate must increase: new firefighters.
In September, the council voted 4-1 to accept a $1.92 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to hire 18 new firefighters. The grant allowed the fire department to help understaffed engine companies across the city to move from an average of three firefighters per truck to the national standard of four per truck.
Councilman George Wangemann cast both Tuesday’s vote against the tax increase and the dissenting vote in September against the grant.
“Someone once said ‘the power to tax is the power to destroy,’ and I tend to agree,” he said. “We’ll destroy businesses, families and individuals who find it difficult in these hard economic times to make it work.”
When bills come in the mail, the only price that doesn’t go up is his salary, Wangemann said, and plenty of others must feel the same way.
“We need to be more sensitive to the individuals, families and businesses who pay the heavy load,” he said. “If we keep raising taxes, even a little at a time, it creates a heavy burden and I’d hate to see us run people out of town if the burden of that tax is too great ... We’ve got to think outside of the box or we may not have citizens who live here.”