Last month, the city council established the tentative rate at 3.6 mills. That rate may not be the final rate, which will be set during the July 23 city council meeting; it was, however, the number the city must give county and state officials to begin the approval process for a new tax. When approved, the final millage rate can be lower than the 3.6 mills but no higher without beginning the process over.
City Manager Kevin McBurnett said a 2 mill rate would be required to fill the projected budget deficit. But, to fill Emerson Police Chief Stan Bradley's request for an additional officer and the deficit, 3.3 mills would be needed through fiscal year 2013. With tax exemptions scheduled hit in fiscal year 2014, the city is asking for 3.6 mills to keep from increasing taxes each year to meet projected shortfalls.
Citizens Monday voiced concerns over the timing of the tax and the decision to establish the rate at 3.6 mills instead of a gradual increase.
"The majority [of complaints] was it's a bad time to implement taxes. It's not a good time to do that," McBurnett said Tuesday. "Of course if times were good right now, financially, the city would not be in a position to where they needed to implement a tax -- since we've done without taxes since 1985.
"The other one was [they'd] like to see it in a step increase instead of ... all at once."
Emerson resident Jay Scott was among those Monday evening calling for the city to "phase in" the millage rate.
But, according to McBurnett, phasing in the tax is not an option.
"It was something that was brought up in the public hearings, however, no, because of the fluid situation in Emerson with the development that is occurring, we are only looking at the current year and what is necessary to take care of the current year," he said.
During a presentation made in the public hearing, the city explained that a combination of declining revenue and increased expenses led to the city beginning the process of establishing an ad valorem tax.
The city has seen a rise in calls for law enforcement, which equals less traffic enforcement; a sluggish economy with slow development; and a decline in Local Option Sales Tax revenue. Those factors are coupled with rising fuel costs, a crumbling infrastructure, unfunded mandates and growing insurance premiums.
"The city has been discussing taxes since 2007 and brought it to the public's attention in 2008 when the economy turned and revenues dried up," McBurnett explained. "We had held off on doing taxes because we wanted to get the exemptions in place. We have now come to the point where the exemptions are in place. We've held off as long as we can, and we don't feel that we want our reserve general fund to go any further downhill than it is right now."
If passed, the city will begin collecting the tax this year.
"It would go out with the Bartow County tax notices, or tax bills, not notices, tax bills in November 2012, I believe, is when they bill it," McBurnett said.
On June 25, Emerson approved intergovernmental agreements with the Bartow County commissioner and Bartow County tax commissioner for the county to collect the ad valorem taxes for the city at a cost of $2,800, which is less than if Emerson collected the taxes itself. Commissioner Clarence Brown is expected to hear the agreement during his meeting at 10 a.m. today.
Emerson City Council will hold a final public hearing on the millage rate at its next meeting Monday, July 23, at 7 p.m. at city hall.