Residents unhappy with McDonough millage rate hike

By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent

McDonough officials last week approved a millage rate hike and tax increase that they said was needed to fund certain aspects of the budget, but some local residents are displeased - not necessarily with the reasons for the increase, but with the way the city’s finances are being handled in general.

The city’s millage rate is going up from 4.375 to 4.922, an increase of just over a half-mill. It was pointed out that the additional funds were needed to cover just over $147,000 in police compensation adjustments as well as around $300,000 per year in bond payments for 20 years to cover the cost of a new court building. Also approved in the new budget is an across-the-board 2-percent raise for city employees, which adds up to about $145,000 in the coming year.

Two local business owners who have spoken out repeatedly at City Council hearings on the proposed tax increase said that they support virtually everything the city is wanting to do with the extra funds but have major issues with where the money has gone in the past and how it was spent.

“I supported the projects,” said Monta Brown, who previously spent nine years on the City Council.

Brown said the city is investing in the training of police officers only to see them go to other nearby jurisdictions for a little more money, so the compensation adjustment was a good idea. “We are losing good officers because of our pay scale,” he said. “The increase was necessary for retention.”

He also likes the idea of taking care of city employees, although he believes future raises should be mostly performance-based.

The city is in “dire need” of a new municipal court facility, he added, but the way it has gotten to this point leaves something to be desired. The current court is housed in a former church building and plans are now in place to build a new facility on Lawrenceville Street near the police headquarters. Another piece of property was purchased for a court building but city officials later deemed it unsuitable.

Brown said it is very difficult for the average citizen to know how and where the city’s money is spent, pointing out that there is no place on the city’s website to track expenditures.

“The way the city does business has to change.” he said. “This is not a reflection on the staff, which does a great job. But our governing body needs to be more transparent. Before they come asking for a tax increase there should be a good explanation of where the money has been going.”

His position is shared by Annette O’Banion, another McDonough business owner who, like Brown, has addressed the council during its millage hearings to express concerns. She raised the issue of the extra property purchase for the court building, a project which was originally designated as a SPLOST project.

“No one can tell you how much money has been spent on different things,” she said, using Alexander Park as an example, and added that water revenue routinely is spent on things other than water service.

O’Banion said the hotel-motel tax is going up this year, meaning an extra $1 million or so in revenue, and the city raised all commercial water rates July 1. She maintains that with all of these revenue sources increasing it just means more spending.

The council heard these concerns with little or no feedback at the last millage hearing, which O’Banion said led her to believe that the council had decided already what to do and would let everyone have their say before voting for the increase anyway.