"You can't get blood from a stone. How much more can I be squeezed," said one female resident.
Mayor Al Pallone defended the millage rate increase, saying it was necessary to ensure the city's financial security and overall health.
"I think it's our responsibility as a mayor and council to keep this city vibrant, and if you want us to cut back and not provide what this city deserves, I think it's a mistake. We're making a sacrifice, I think, by not financing the police department," Pallone said.
The council had set a tentative millage rate of 3.6 mills, which received some criticism from residents for being too high. The 3.6 mills would have eliminated the city's current budget gap, and would also have financed another policeman for the department. While a rate of 3.3 mills would have accomplished the same goals, the 3.3 mills would not have covered residents' tax exemptions the city had predicted for its 2014 fiscal year. The 3.6 mills was designed to compensate for those predicted exemptions.
However, after taking public feedback into account, Pallone recommended that the council take up a 2 mill increase, which would cover the budget shortfall for this fiscal year only.
Some residents, though, asked the city for a graduated millage rate increase. Numbers ranging from .5 mills to 1.5 mills were suggested so residents would have more time to absorb the increased tax, but such an idea was rejected.
"We need 2 mills so we do not have to use anything else in our savings account," said City Manager Kevin McBurnett. "Because our savings account has gotten so low, if we were to have an emergency situation right now we wouldn't have money to fund it."
Council member Brenda Tidwell acknowledged it would be difficult for some residents to pay the tax.
"There's parts of the city that don't have a lot of money. They just don't. There's not a lot of money out there," she said. "We used sales tax for so many years to live on, to run the city, and sales tax is down because the economy is down."
Tidwell supported the idea of raising the millage rate to 1 mill so those on a fixed income, or those with lower incomes, would be given time to file their exemptions. She believed, though, the millage rate should never have been rolled back to zero in the first place.
"We've got sewage lines that are under pavement; water lines under pavement. We've got water stations that are old and going decrepit and are patched together with bubble gum at this point. They should've kept the tax they had to start with, to be honest with you. So at least we could have planned for the future," she said.
Council member Charles Lowry agreed with Tidwell later in the public hearing.
"I want to add one other thing. I'm very unhappy that this mill rate has been rolled back to zero since 1984. They've sold property in this city and done everything to prevent that and, in my opinion, that millage rate should never have been rolled back to zero. Maybe one, maybe half, I don't know, but now we're paying the piper for it," he said.
While many residents were upset with the idea of having an additional tax to pay, most thanked the council and the mayor for their public service while acknowledging they were facing a difficult decision.
When Pallone closed the public hearing and asked for a motion, Lowry moved to raise the millage rate to 2 mills. Terry Webb seconded the motion. In the vote, Lowry, Webb and Edward Brush voted yes, while Tidwell voted no.
After the vote, the council approved housing plans for 49 Waterside Drive.
McBurnett also made his report to the council, saying the city had received plans from LakePoint Sporting Community & Town Center for the road going to their south complex. The plans call for improvements to Ga. Highway 293 where it meets Old Allatoona Road. That intersection will be moved down the hill so it no longer sits next to the U.S. Highway 41 overpass. Council members expected the change to decrease the number of wrecks at that location. Highway 293 also would connect to Highway 41 at an intersection with a streetlight under these changes.
McBurnett said the city still needed to go over the plans with the city engineer before the plans could go before the council.
McBurnett also reported on the following items:
* repairs to the top portion of the Waterside water tower are under way;
* water treatment systems in the city's water plant are aging and will need to be replaced;
* the city is continuing to test the water coming out of its new test well off of Puckett Road; and
* thanking Yellowstone Mining and Landfill Company for allowing the city to dump its inert waste in its landfill free of charge.
The Emerson City Council's next meeting is scheduled for Aug. 13 at 7 p.m. at city hall.