Last week, Doraville’s city manager presented a proposed budget to the city council. Even though our property values (and the tax digest) are going up in 2019, several of the city’s costs are going up as well. There are also several needs the city has which have been ignored for many years. Because of this, her budget proposes raising our municipal property tax from 8.951 to 10 mills.
In a meeting I had with her this week, the city manager gave me this document showing the anticipated expenditures in 2019 if we make no increases in service, along with the expected changes in revenue. To help myself understand it a little better, I reorganized this data into a spreadsheet:
If we leave everything the same, while factoring in the non-discretionary increases above, we would have a deficit of about $350,000. To cover just this, we would need to raise taxes to about 9.46 mills.
There are some important other things that the city needs to do which will also cost money – these include hiring a full time public information officer (who would be responsible for the city’s overall communications – including on the web, its newsletter and social media) and setting up an economic development contract for branding, marketing and small business retention. The city could also use a Research analyst and GIS specialist and some other positions that will help it accommodate businesses and developers that want to come to Doraville.
Here’s the revenue increase we can expect at each step in the millage rate. I show our current millage rate, the rate at which we would need to make no cuts in services (9.46) , and how much would be generated if we raise it to 10.
This budget process has been a frustrating one for me, because I believe there has been a lack of leadership from the city council when it comes to deciding the city’s priorities. I accept ownership for my part in that lack of leadership. We have not given the city’s staff any meaningful direction about what is important to us as a body or where we want to invest our resources. I tried to have some of these conversations at our budget work session, but it was too little too late.
Expecting 6 people to agree on all of our collective priorities for Doraville and to achieve a consensus that the city’s staff could work from during a 1 hour work session a few weeks before the budget needs to be passed was unrealistic. I can’t fault the staff for prioritizing everything in this budget, because the council has not given any direction about what our priorities are or where it would be OK to make cuts. I’m hopeful that we can provide better guidance in the future and that the council will restructure the way it handles work sessions altogether (a 1 hour work session before the public meeting is not cutting it).
Based on my own priorities, I have suggested that the council look at these areas of the budget if it wants to offset the impact of tax increases:
- We spend over $700,000 on “Recreation.” Is this money well spent? Who are the people taking part in the programs being offered? How many of them live in Doraville? Are we providing the activities that people who live in Doraville want? Could the amount we spend in these budget line items be reduced?
- Homestead exemption is a tool that can help us promote home-ownership. I would like to offset tax increases by increasing our homestead exemption. I think this would help encourage landlords who haven’t invested anything in their properties to sell to people who would hopefully decide to live in our neighborhoods.
- Doraville police do a great job. With that said, they make up a huge part of the budget, and I don’t think we’ve really given them much direction about where their resources should be focused. Given that our police force makes up 60% of the budget, the council should be focusing more on this line item every year.
Comments I received in the last work session and in one-on-one discussions with some council members lead me to believe there’s not a lot of appetite to tackle any of the above areas right now. That said, I am going to continue pushing that we look at these areas, even after we are through budget season.
I still want to hear from you – at the upcoming budget meeting on Monday night, or via email or phone call. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 678-373-9137. I am sure that the other council members want to hear from you also. They can be reached at:
If you do not support raising the millage rate, I’m especially interested in what areas of our services you think we should cut back on.