The first two of three public hearings on Hinesville’s proposed property-tax increase took place Thursday in council chambers at city hall. Though sparsely attended by city leaders and concerned residents, the morning meeting prompted some bitter public comments.
After opening the meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Charles Frasier welcomed those in attendance and asked City Manager Billy Edwards to explain the purpose of the public hearing. Edwards said the hearing was one of three that would allow the public to make comments about the proposal to raise the millage rate for property taxes by just under one mill.
“Where is everybody?” asked Hinesville resident Larry Boggs, who complained that too few community members attended the hearing. “How can you have a public hearing if nobody’s here?”
After the hearing, Boggs said he had too much he wanted to say to explain it briefly for the Courier. He promised to return for the 6 p.m. hearing.
“Why is this tax increase necessary?” asked Gerda Benedik, who said she’s lived in Hinesville for 30 years. “Please tell me why our property taxes have to go up.”
Frasier told her the tax increase became necessary in order to balance the city’s budget. He said the millage increase would allow the city to continue to provide the quality of services residents expect and deserve.
Benedik suggested the property-tax increase would cause some people not to buy a home in Hinesville, and the city also would have a difficult time attracting new businesses.
Councilman David Anderson reiterated that the increased millage rate enabled the city to provide essential services and buy maintenance and other kinds of equipment the city needs to provide those services.
“You should have thought of that before you built this grand city hall,” Benedik said. “The courthouse annex, yes, it has a use, but this city hall doesn’t benefit anybody. You should raise (revenues) only for what’s necessary to run the city. Hinesville can’t afford to compete with Savannah.”
“Every new building you see in Hinesville was not built by taxpayers,” Anderson responded. “A lot of the new buildings you see were paid for by the (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development), grants and SPLOST money.”
Councilman Keith Jenkins asked her if she had expressed her concerns with the council person representing her district, telling her that council members need to hear peoples’ concerns.
“It takes money to run the city, but at the same time, we don’t want to run you out of your house,” Jenkins said. “We’re not on a spending rampage as some people have accused us. I think the city is doing a pretty good job of managing folks’ money.”
Benedik said seniors like her have to live on fixed budgets, but the city does not. They could raise tax rates, utility rates and other fees. She asked why the city didn’t look harder to find other things in the budget to cut before resorting to raising the millage rate for property taxes.
“We cut our budget down to the bare bone,” said Frasier, pointing out the city has not raised the millage rate on property taxes in three years. “There are services, though, that you expect to be done.”
He then asked Edwards about the level and cost of services provided to the city by public-works contractor CH2MHill/OMI. Edwards told him that was not a question he could answer right then.
“What I’d like to do is have an independent study conducted to see if the city could provide its own public-works services at less costs than a contractor,” he said. “All the public-works equipment belongs to the city. OMI just manages it for us. I’d like to know if we could save some money if the city manages its own public-works department.”