Rare fair weather tax hike for Austell?

8:41 PM, May 17, 2012   |    comments
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  • Austell small business owner Jack McDonald
  • Austell small business owner Victoria McCall
  • Austell Mayor Joe Jerkins
  • Austell Gas System
    

AUSTELL, Ga. -- A couple of years ago, the Cobb County town of Austell survived extensive flood damage without having to raise taxes.

But now its 6,500 citizens are facing their first tax hike in nearly a quarter century thanks to good weather.

That's right. Good weather.

The bad news comes from longtime Mayor Joe Jerkins, enshrined in the middle of town with a life size statue.

In his 23 years in office he hasn't proposed a tax hike until now.

"I'm not a tax person," Jerkins said, "the first 11 years we cut taxes."

The reason is that Austell has been hit with the perfect storm.

Much of its budget comes from a city owned natural gas utility, but that income has dropped more than a half-million dollars this year thanks to good weather.

A mild winter, combined with tumbling natural gas prices, has shrunk the cash cow.

Combine that with shrinking property values and a huge increase in health insurance for 100 city employees.

"We've cut all we can out of our budget without laying employees off," Jerkins told 11Alive News on Thursday.

The bad news is that the potential tax hike is 28 percent.

The good news is that it works out to only about $40 more a year on a $100,000 property thanks to the city's 3.1 millage rate.

But even that tax increase draws complaints from small business owners surrounded by more and more empty store fronts.

"It's putting fuel on the fire, it seems to me," said junk shop owner Jack McDonald.

"We can't pay what we got now," he added.

"You're living paycheck to paycheck," said thrift shop owner Victoria McCall.

"We're actually considering relocating," she added.

Mayor Jerkins urges his citizens to hang on for just one year.

"I'll promise 'em one thing," he said.

"If we can, we'll cut it back again next year and the next year we'll make it up for 'em," he added.

Austell's City Council will vote on the mayor's budget proposal June 4.

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