Forsyth set its preliminary millage rate for 2019 at 3 mills, the same as the last three years. That tax rate is expected to generate slightly more revenue than it did last year because of growth in the tax base. Each mill is expected to bring the city about $100,000 according to city manager Janice Hall.
The preliminary millage rate is set so that it can be advertised and generate public input before the final rate is approved by city council. Legally, the city can reduce the preliminary rate but can’t increase it.
Council member Mike Dodd motioned to keep the tax rate at 3 mills, and Chris Hewett seconded the motion. Council member John Howard said he wanted to set the preliminary millage rate at 4 and have a work session about what the city could do with the additional $100,000.
“We’re the type of council that has to hash things out,” said Howard.
He said Forsyth has had a recent crime issue, and the Police Department is short-staffed. He would like to see Forsyth increase police officers’ salaries to make it more competitive with other law enforcement agencies, particularly with Monroe County Sheriff’s Office.
“Law enforcement is one of those things we take a hit for because we don’t have competitive pay,” said council member Julius Stroud.
“I think there’s an opportunity to do that with 3 mills,” said council member Greg Goolsby. “We don’t have to use it the same way [as we have before.] I’m all for us having a work session to discuss that.”
Hall said she has talked with police chief Eddie Harris about using money already in the budget to increase officers’ salaries. She explained that this is 2019 millage and council has already set the city budget for 2019. She said a pay increase for policemen is something council needs to work on as it sets the 2020 budget.
Goolsby motioned to add an amendment that the money the city collects from property taxes not be put in the general fund but rather be used for special projects. The city included this amendment for the last two years and used property taxes on recreation projects. The amendment passed unanimously.
Hall told council there are specific things they must do if they vote to increase the millage rate, including advertising the increase and holding public hearings. She said she would talk to the tax assessors office to make sure the city follows all guidelines if council decided to increase the preliminary millage.
“I made a motion for 3 mills for a reason,” said Dodd. “We’ve been trying to get it down for years. It was 5 mills and we got it down to 3 and it plateaued. I don’t want it to go back up.”
Council voted unanimously to set preliminary millage at 3 mills. Date and time for a work session was discussed but not set. The council meeting scheduled for Monday, Sept. 2 was changed to Tuesday, Sept. 3 at 6 p.m. because of the Labor Day holiday.
In other Forsyth Council news:
• After a 40-minute closed door session to discuss “pending litigation,’ the Forsyth city council authorized city attorney Bobby Melton to propose to Norfolk Southern Railroad that the city will pay to install crossing arms and other features at the Indian Springs Drive crossing to keep it open.
The motion, made by council member Greg Goolsby, passed unanimously without any discussion in open session, and the meeting adjourned immediately afterward.
Council asked for and received a stay from Monroe County Superior Court Judge Tommy Wilson to delay closing of the Indian Springs Drive crossing around June 18. The city filed a motion to appeal the closing requested by Norfolk Southern and approved by Georgia Department of Transportation. The action was in response to a letter from DOT on June 5 telling the city to post notice of the closing 30 days after the signs went up.
Subsequently there was a train-car collision at the crossing on July 17. Fortunately, there weren’t serious injuries.
Norfolk Southern came to the city in the fall of 2018 offering almost $1 million for road and safety improvements at two remaining crossing if the city would close two of the four crossings in its city limits. After the city received public input asking to keep all four crossings open, Norfolk Southern returned with a counter offer for less money if one crossing were closed instead of two. After the city rejected that offer, Norfolk Southern asked DOT to order the closing, which it did.
Throughout discussions council members had asked if Norfolk Southern or DOT could assist with any grants or other funding to add safety features without closing a crossing since they agreed the features were needed. Neither Norfolk Southern nor DOT responded to these requests, even in regard to crossings they were not asking to close.
At public hearings, citizens said that all four crossings are used and that closing any of them would result in traffic problems that would cause safety issues because of increased use of the remaining crossings and not being able to cross in an emergency as well as constant inconvenience and detrimental effects on businesses near the crossings.