A move toward a lower 83-cent city real estate tax rate was defeated by a 3-2 vote Monday night by Waynesboo City Council.
The council must consider a vote on the current 90-cent tax rate and final approval of the 2022 city budget when it meets again on May 24. Councilman Terry Short introduced an ordinance Monday to keep the current 90-cent tax rate.
The motion for the lower rate was offered last month by Vice Mayor Lana Williams in an effort to equalize tax bills for city residents. The city’s recent reassessment brought a 16 percnt overall increase in city property values, according to Waynesboro City Manager Mike Hamp.
Hamp said if the tax rate dropped from the current 90-cent rate to 83 cents, it would jeopardize initiatives in the 2022 budget such as a 3 percent pay hike for city employees.
Mayor Bobby Henderson, one of the three no votes Monday for the lower tax rate, said dropping the rate would also make it difficult for the city to address other needs. Those needs include street maintenance, sidewalk improvements and preliminary work on a Waynesboro West End fire station.
“We have some sidewalks that are not ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) compliant,” Henderson said.
Short said the city also could not afford to keep borrowing from its reserves. “We borrowed $1.7 million last fiscal year. This year, we would be borrowing $1.4 million with no way to pay it back,” he said.
Councilman Bruce Allen said he favored the 83—cent rate out of concern for the recent lost revenues of local businesses, and the fixed incomes senior citizens must live on. Allen said new residents moving in to the city could add needed revenue. And Allen also said a portion of the $4.8 million coming to the city from the federal American Recovery Act could be used to help with city services.
Hamp said guidelines for the spending of those Recovery Act funds were just released Monday. And he said it would take time to read the 160 pages guiding the spending of those funds.
Most of those who spoke at Monday’s meeting favored keeping the current 90-cent tax rate.
City resident Robert Horowitz said “lowereing taxes in challenging times” would not be a prudent move by the council. He said it is important to properly fund police and fire services and maintain city parks and city infrastructure.
Brian Edwards, a retired city police officer and former school board member, said he is willing to pay more taxes because he is “confident the city will put the money to good use.”
City resident Danny Ledford said he had concerns about the 90-cent rate. Ledford said the council hasn’t previously made wise use of its tax dollars. He said he wants more spending on police to assure a safer city.
When council meets in two weeks, the tax rate and a 2022 budget of more than $54 million will be up for final consideration.
Hamp said the city budget reflects a 7.6 percent increase over the current city budget. He said the proposed budget reflects an improving local economy emerging from the pandemic.