Many citizens in the community have stated lately that they wonder if the powers that be in local government actually listen to any concerns they have; especially when it comes to the property tax millage rate. Well, at a called meeting last Thursday, the Thomaston City Council assured the community that they do listen; by voting 4-0 to keep the millage rate at 3.84 mills, the same as last year. Council member Gary Atwater was not present at the meeting.
According to Tax Commissioner Berry Cook, with this change city residents should see an 0.47 mills decrease on their tax bill this year if the county commissioners set their millage rate as proposed at 18.76 mills. This would put the combined rate in the city for state, school, county, city and joint projects at 35.36 as compared to 35.83 last year.
Mayor Hays Arnold opened the meeting by informing the crowd that filled the basement of the Thomaston-Upson Archives that things would be done differently at the meeting, with public comments being held until after the business at hand was finished. He continued, stating he wanted to take this time to speak from his heart to the citizens.
“We had the question arise, if we actually listened to what people had to say, and I responded yes, that we did,” said Arnold. “I don’t know if you are aware of how seriously we all take that, but we are very serious about our love for and our interest in this community, as are each of you.”
Arnold continued stating the city has done some “pretty phenomenal things” in past years when it came to dealing with the worst financial scenario the city has faced since the Great Depression. He noted by being fiscally conservative, the city has been able to build reserves even in trying times. He made a recommendation to the council that the rate be left as it has for the past 13 years. Arnold also noted he had discussed the outcome of not having an increase with City Manager Patrick Comiskey and stated he was assured by Comiskey that he would be able to manage the city’s finances within the parameters set by the council.
Mayor Pro Tem Doug Head told the crowd the reason the council was proposing an increase was to help fund the significant challenges the city faces when it comes to maintaining the infrastructure. However, he noted the reason the council was able to not raise the millage rate was thanks to the incredible leadership of Mayor Arnold, Comiskey and those who preceded the current council. The rest of the council agreed and Councilmember Don Greathouse added that he felt this was the right move for the city to make.
“We do have several continuous issues before us now, but we have to make the right decision and I think this is the right decision for this time, this day and this age. We are going to work together for the citizens because that is what our job is,” said Greathouse.
The crowd thanked the council for making the decision to not increase the millage rate and many stated they felt the right decision was made.
“I think they did the right thing,” said Dennis Harris. “It is just the wrong time to be going up on taxes; people cannot afford it, especially those on fixed incomes. I think the pressure that people put on them (the city council) caused the change because I believe before it was a done deal.”
“It just goes to show that good things can happen when citizens peacefully come together for a common goal,” added Tim Tucker.
Ritz Theatre owner Malcolm Neal stated he was especially thankful for the change, noting the tax increase would have put an even greater burden on the small business owners since it would be coupled with the utility rate increase that went into effect earlier this year.
“This would have been a double whammy, which would have hurt everyone, especially the small business owners,” said Neal. “Most of us have only a small margin and an additional $50 a month makes a big difference.”
Neal went on to say he understood that citizens and businesses have moved out of town, therefore reducing the tax income, but noted that continuing to raise rates on those who are still here could cause them to have to leave as well.
“I’m glad they could try to level things off at this point and not penalize those of us who are left. I’m glad they listened to the people and realized they can make it work,” said Neal.
Ashley Biles can be reached by calling 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @AshleyBiles1