Roswell is advertising a proposed increase in taxes for 2014, but the total rate used to calculate how much property tax an owner will pay will stay at 5.455 mills, the same as the previous year.
Confused? There is an explanation, according to city officials.
“While the overall property tax rate will stay the same, the city is proposing to increase the rate for maintenance and operations and decrease the rate for debt service,” a press release about the 2014 budget says.
Because Roswell has paid off a portion of its bonded debt, annual debt payments have gone down.
So Mayor Jere Wood is advocating that some of the property tax rate that went toward paying that debt will now pay for city maintenance and operations.
The maintenance and operations rate will increase by 0.405 and the debt service rate will decrease by 0.405.
The typical Roswell tax bill on a $250,000 assessed value home would not increase from $545.50.
The city is anticipating revenues of $61.1 million in 2014, up from $59.9 million the previous year, with the increase attributed to sales tax revenues.
But even before public hearings on the proposed budget begin, some residents are saying that if the millage for debt service goes down, the other half of the millage equation should remain the same as last year. Otherwise, they say, it’s actually a hidden tax increase.
“I was hoping the Mayor’s actual budget wouldn’t ultimately include this tax increase,” Councilman Kent Igleheart said last week. “At the minimum this is a bait and switch.
“The portion of the millage rate that goes to debt service is there to pay off specific things that residents voted for. If we now take that and move it to covering operating costs, we are breaking the public trust.”
Councilman Rich Dippolito said he understood the reasoning behind the millage proposal. “Since our debt is mostly paid off, our need for debt service funding is greatly reduced, however, our need to invest in the city will continue.
“It’s unfortunate that some are saying that this is a ‘tax increase in disguise,’” Dippolito said. “The city budget process is completely transparent. The fact is that the total tax rate is not changing. If a resident’s city of Roswell tax bill was $300 last year, it will be $300 this year unless Fulton County re-assesses their property.”
Wood, who creates the proposed budget with assistance from city management staff, said the millage rate could go down if certain expenses could be cut.
“If we eliminate the police department we could substantially decrease the millage rate. If we eliminate the fire department we could also cut costs. And we could save $1.8 million every year if we stopped repairing roads,” the mayor said.
“Yes, we are proposing three new employees. We have relaxed our belt a little. But those citizens who believe we can maintain the same level of services without ever seeing an increase in taxes should know we cannot hold the line and expect the same services without paying those services’ increased costs.”
The mayor and council will hold three public hearings on the proposed budget May 13 at 7 p.m., May 20 at 6:30 p.m., and the final reading and vote on May 29 at 7 p.m. All are in the council chambers at Roswell City Hall.
Information about the proposed 2014 city budget can be found at www.roswellgov.com.