City Manager Sam Grove highlighted how Cartersville and its utilities focus on citizens’ quality of life.
“We’re a little different than the typical city that you find. ... We’ve got six utilities: electric, gas, water, telecom, stormwater, solid waste. Some of these we’ve been working in for 100 years, and that’s our philosophy. ... Now we do supply affordable services to our customers,” he said in his opening remarks. “They’re much more than a number to us. We have a strong relationship with our businesses, and as you see as we go through a discussion of our utilities, we have a relatively small number of businesses that do a lot of business with us and generate a lot of revenue and related costs.”
As Grove went into the city’s $145 million budget, he highlighted the difficulties presented by falling sales tax revenues. Between 2002 and 2007, he said, sales tax grew by 52 percent. Between 2008 and 2013, it dropped by 44 percent. However, what he did not understand was how state sales tax revenues were increasing, but the revenues Cartersville has been seeing are going down.
“In trying to understand this with information [County Administrator Peter Olson] has sent over to us, which is very helpful, there are some pieces of this that are affecting sales tax. The sales tax purchase of autos going away, as well as the annual ad valorem ... the reduction in sales tax on energy that was put in place also affects us, although we have put the excise tax back on,” Grove said. “The phase out will be over four years. The excise tax is moving on, so that’s a little bit of a shifting sand. With both of those it creates a drop in the sales tax both in the auto and utility sectors of our state sales tax.
“Also, too, there is a new thing — a Georgia agricultural tax exemption that allows farmers, basically, to be exempt from taxes. That’s out there too and we’re really unsure as to who is policing that.”
The presentation paused for a few minutes as Grove and members of the audience discussed a bill that could be submitted to the Georgia State Legislature called the Full Accountability Collection of Taxes act. The bill is so new it does not have a number yet, but it would permit the Department of Revenue to send confidential business information relating to sales tax to local officials on the city and county level in an effort to break up the reporting of sales tax data submitted to the state. The current method, it was said, is at a county level, making it difficult to determine which businesses are paying sales tax and in what amounts. Such information would be protected once it reaches city and county officials, as stipulated in the act.
“We want to understand what’s going on,” said Grove. “If some of the trends in our sales tax continues, we need to take a real good look at what less government looks like. We need to understand what has happened.”
Melinda Lemmon, executive director of the Cartersville-Bartow County Development Authority, spoke about the recent business investments in the county, and Assistant City Manager Dan Porta spoke about the Downtown Development Authority’s work since it became part of the city’s government.
The Georgia Municipal Association encourages cities to host Hometown Connection meetings so they can keep their representatives informed about municipal concerns and improvements. During the 2012 meeting, GMA Director of Government Affairs Tom Gehl said the meetings were useful too.
“Senators and house members are living in cities and, oftentimes, city officials take for granted the fact that they have a lot of things going on, and some assume that senators and representatives are familiar with all the great things going on in their community,” Gehl said. “Also, they assume that they are familiar with the costs and where the revenues come from and the costs that are incurred by the city. But, unless they sit down and explain to the legislators what’s a challenge, what’s an opportunity for the city, what it costs, how they get their revenue, legislators don’t really understand the complexities of running a city government.”
— Jessica Loeding contributed to this story.