At the September meeting of the Georgetown City Council, the city's administrator informed everyone that he could not balance Georgetown's budget without increasing the (millage) municipal tax rate. Shrinking property values had resulted in reduced tax bills, he said, making it necessary to tinker with the tax rate to collect the amount of money the administration wants to spend running the city during the upcoming year. When I proposed cutting the budget (something I warned would be necessary during budget talks this past spring), the mayor replied that it would be a "nightmare" to have to go line by line to reduce spending. The answer, he said, is to increase millage, the rate charged for property taxes.
The mayor is right about one thing. We are in a "nightmare" situation. Large and established companies have shut down. Small businesses -- some of which were open for generations -- have closed or are struggling. Many people have lost their jobs. No new jobs are being created. For those lucky enough to remain employed, benefits have been cut while pay has, by and large, remained stagnant. Unemployment is ruining families. Real people -- our friends and neighbors -- are losing their businesses, jobs, homes and life savings because they cannot pay mortgages, taxes and other important bills. Clearly, something needs to be done to help ease this burden.
We are not alone in this crisis. Other jurisdictions face identical problems. In those where common sense reigns, belts have been tightened and deep budget cuts made. But during this same time that others have been frugal, Georgetown's municipal budget has continued to grow. In fact, the current budget (the one for which more money is needed to fund) grew by a couple of million dollars over the preceding year. This gluttonous consumption needs to stop.
Under our form of government, the mayor is responsible for proposing a budget to the City Council. During discussions of his proposal this past spring, I questioned the rosy revenue projections being placed before the council. With property values dropping sharply and reassessment on the horizon, I did not believe that the revenue anticipated in the budget would be collected. As it turned out, that fear was well-placed.
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Like everyone else, city government must live within its budget. Like everyone else, it cannot spend more than it earns. When, as now, income falls, the answer is not to demand more money, but to cut spending.
In my view, the time has come to re-examine the city's budget and make appropriate cuts. Staff cuts may be necessary. Remaining city staff will have to become more productive. Big purchases must be put on hold. City staff simply must make do with existing vehicles and other equipment. High-priced consultants, no-bid contracts and loose spending on credit and debit cards must end. Who knows, if the staff conducts municipal business properly, fewer lawsuits may even result, lowering the city's monster-sized legal bill.
Over the past decade, increases in property values resulted in increased spending. Today's deflation of those values should have the opposite effect, giving some relief to taxpayers. That cannot happen without tightening our belts. Most of the rest of the country is doing that. Georgetown needs to do so also.
So there is no mistake, I strongly oppose a millage increase proposed by the mayor and city administrator and urge citizens to go to all public hearings and do the same.
The writer is a Georgetown City Council member.