The Cartersville City Council unanimously approved a slate of millage rate items at Thursday evening’s public meeting — and got quite the earful in the process.
City of Cartersville Finance Director Tom Rhinehart discussed the City’s proposed 2019 maintenance and operations millage rate, which will be used for local government functions such as police, fire, public works and parks and recreation.
“The proposed 2019 millage rate is 3.295 mills,” he said. “This is above the rollback rate of 2.106 mills — as a result, the City is requiring three public hearings for the public to voice their opinion.”
Resident Margaret Angelo took him up on his offer.
A resident since 2017, she told council her tax bills are about eight times higher than what they were when she lived in Cobb County.
“We had no idea that one county over ran something entirely different than what this City and this County does,” she said. “You’re talking eight times — not two, not three, but eight times — what you were paying, and that includes school taxes you didn’t have to pay, because 65 and older there is exempt.”
She asked the council why she couldn’t “stack” City and County homestead exemptions, and asked why the senior school tax exemption in Cartersville is lower than the one for County residents.
“My understanding is that there is a $28,000 exemption versus $40,000 in the County, and quite honestly, that’s something that we’re looking at,” said Cartersville Mayor Matt Santini. “I’ve had a conversation over the last month ago about why it was different, and years ago, both the County and the City were at $28,000.”
Angelo said that her retirement fund has “done nothing but bleed money” since she moved to the community.
“Now you are aware that the only millage that this group right here puts on you is 3.29?” said Councilman Jayce Stepp. “And I would be shocked to find a community that’s an eighth of that amount.”
Still, Angelo said she’s paying four times as much City taxes in Cartersville than at her previous residence due to the lack of a total senior school tax exemption.
“We are hemorrhaging money in this community,” she said. “And we have to make a decision, and we’re going to make it really fast, of whether we continue to be residents here.”
Angelo said the population of Cartersville is increasing and business seems to be booming; with that in mind, she wondered why the City’s millage rate is going up instead of going down.
Then she started listing some of the dollar amounts for a series of bids and purchases from earlier in the meeting — all of which were unanimously approved by council.
“We’re talking $145,000, we’re talking $18,000, you’re talking almost $6,500, you’re talking a little over $5,000 and a little over $11,000 — that’s quite a bit of money to spend in one night,” she said. “But that’s a lot of money, from other people’s money, that you’re spending.”
At that point, Stepp began quizzing Angelo on her utility rates. He didn’t get far in his questioning before Mayor Santini stepped in and ruled it as off-topic.
“When you’re asking about where this millage is going, you’re going to see a lot more streets being paved,” Stepp told her. “Because we were behind on that.”
No other speakers took to the podium. Council subsequently approved the M&O millage rate unanimously.
From there, the council took up an item to set the Cartersville School System millage rate at 14.576 mills.
“This is the rollback rate for 2019,” Rhinehart said.
Angelo raised her hand when invites for public comment were issued by Santini.
Despite the resident making a vocal gesture — and video evidence appearing to show several members of the council looking directly at her at the time — Angelo was not allowed an opportunity to speak at the podium.
Councilman Stepp quickly made a motion to approve the millage rate, with council voting unanimously to approve it.
The council also voted unanimously to approve setting the Cartersville Business Improvement District millage rate at 1.789 mills at Thursday’s meeting. The council likewise voted unanimously to approve setting the 2019 General Obligations (GO) Parks and Recreation Bond property tax millage rate at 0.861 mills.