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Georgetown council nixes millage rise

There will be no millage increase for the city of Georgetown.

The proposed increase of 6.1 mills was defeated by a majority of council members Tuesday night in a 5-2 vote.

That increase was suggested as a result of a countywide reassessment that said property values in Georgetown County were decreasing, meaning millage would have to increase to match the tax revenue that was budgeted for in June.

After three people spoke against the millage increase during public hearing, five City Council members said with their votes that now is not the time to raise millage.

The council's action means the city will face a budget shortfall of $400,000, which the council will have to decide how to correct.

Councilman Rudolph Bradley said because the people of Georgetown are struggling to make ends meet he "cannot sit here in clear conscience and vote to increase the millage."

Bradley and several other council members expressed frustration with Georgetown County for not reassessing properties sooner, so they could have known property values were falling when they approved their 2010-11 budget in June.

"We got hit with this at the 11th hour," said Councilman Paige Sawyer.

Sawyer said he also had not found one person in the city of Georgetown whose property values went down.

"We're being shorted by the county," he said. "And now we're caught between a rock and a hard place."

On the other side of the issue, Mayor Jack Scoville and Mayor Pro Tem Brendon Barber emphasized the $400,000 loss would be built into the budget for years to come.

"We're never going to recoup this money," Scoville said.

He said because the city is only allowed to raise millage by the Consumer Price Index plus the percentage of population increase, the city cannot simply raise the millage rate next year to make up the $400,000.

"It's a structural change to our budget," he said. "We're going to have to deal with every year hereafter."

Barber and Scoville both said the change could mean layoffs or furloughs.

But Bradley took issue with their statements. "You will not make that decision," Bradley said to Scoville, saying that all of council will decide how to make up the difference.

With the vote against raising millage another debate was sparked: what to cut to make up for the loss of tax revenue.

Councilwoman Jeanette Ard said early in the meeting that she had found over $1.5 million in the budget that she thought could be reduced or taken out, and council members Clarence Smalls, Peggy Wayne and Bradley also said they had ideas.

But Scoville would not let the council members go into details, saying that discussion should wait until the budget workshop meeting.

Chris Eldridge, city administrator, said the $400,000 will have to be made up within the general fund budget, which "is people and benefits."

He said the majority of the general fund, which includes the police, fire, administration, public works and finance departments, is made up of personnel costs.

The City Council will discuss the cuts that need to be made to the budget at a workshop in the afternoon on Tuesday. A firm time will be set later this week.

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