Social Circle says no to tax increase
City Council votes down millage increase

SOCIAL CIRCLE - Social Circle residents will not see their property taxes increase this year. During a meeting of the Social Circle City Council on Tuesday, council members voted unanimously to adopt a millage rate without a proposed 1-mill increase.

The City Council considered raising the millage rate to 8.41 mills upon a request by the Downtown Development Authority. The increased revenue - about $154,000 a year - would have been used to help acquire 242 acres of industrial-zoned property situated on Hightower Trail along the CSX railroad, between the Solo Cup distribution center and the new General Mills plant.

The city held three public hearings during which representatives from the DDA laid out their reasons for trying to purchase the land. Grady Lemonds, chairman of the DDA, told residents during an Aug. 18 meeting that the DDA had negotiated a good price with the two property owners and the cost of the land would likely only increase once utility lines laid for General Mills will be accessible to the property in question.

DDA members said that if the city purchased the land, it could help spur economic development along the industrial tract.

Many members of the public, however, argued that the city should not be raising taxes in the current economic climate. Mayor Jim Burgess announced the City Council would defer taking a vote on the proposed millage rate increase until its meeting this week.

Prior to taking the vote Tuesday, Social Circle resident Lurie Maddox addressed the council. He told the council that he and some other residents were concerned a large number of residents were unaware of the proposed tax increase.

"We took over a survey using language as close as we could to that used by the city - we didn't tell them to vote for it or not to vote for it," Maddox said.

He then handed the council a printout of more than 400 names. "There was not one yes," Maddox said.

He asked the standing-room-only crowd gathered in the Community Center to stand or raise their hands if they did not want the tax increase. Only a few residents remained seated.

Burgess then called for a vote on the millage rate increase. Councilman David Keener made a motion to maintain the current millage rate at 7.41 mills, which was seconded by Councilwoman Traysa Price. The vote was unanimous and prompted applause from the audience after the meeting adjourned.

Lemonds said Wednesday that he was "disappointed" in the council's vote, but was not surprised because of the number of people against the purchase of the land.

"I do believe the opportunity to buy this land at a good price is missed," Lemonds said, adding that without funding from the city or the county, the option on the land will expire.

"That's the way the citizens wanted it and the way the council voted," he said. "We as an authority have no ill will; we will just continue down the road to try to build the future of Social Circle."