After several Hinesville residents expressed anger during the final public hearing on a proposed 1-mill property tax increase, the four city council members present Thursday split their vote, leaving Mayor Jim Thomas to break the tie. The tax increase passed.
The first two hearings on Dec. 6 also were marked with heated comments from residents against the increase.
“We don’t have a revenue problem; we have a spending problem,” said Joseph Stuart. “Let me ask about these Chinese trips. What have we gotten from that? And these trips to Washington. What have they accomplished?”
Stuart equated the city’s issues with the country’s budget problem, praising former President Bill Clinton for his willingness to compromise and balance the budget. Three other residents voiced similar complaints, accusing officials of wasteful spending. Examples given included the Liberty Transit System and Bryant Commons.
Two of the four council members present, along with Thomas, responded to the complaints before the vote.
“Let me say we went through the budget with a fine-tooth comb,” Councilman David Anderson said. “During the last three years, we have not raised taxes at all.”
Mayor Pro Tem Charles Frasier agreed with Anderson, saying the council should have approved a quarter mill increase a few years ago when the economy started to get weak. Had they done so, he said, they probably wouldn’t need the one-mill increase now.
“The millage rate for Hinesville has not been raised since 1997,” the mayor said. “We’re at the point now though if we don’t raise the millage rate, we’ll have to reduce services (provided by the city).”
With no further public discussion, Thomas asked the council to adopt the increase. Frasier and Anderson voted yes. Members Keith Jenkins and Kenneth Shaw voted no. With Councilman Jason Floyd absent, Thomas said it was up to him to cast the tie-breaking vote.
Following the vote, Shaw said, “I know the economy is bad. I have gotten a lot of feedback from folks in my district (District 5). But I want to say I also prayed about this, and I just could not support it.”
Jenkins said he also had talked with many residents of his District 4.
“It takes money to run a city,” he said. “I understand that. Though I disagree with these charges of wasteful spending, I have heard from people in my district, and I just couldn’t support a tax increase.”
The council also decided more than a dozen other items Thursday. Look for details about the rest of the meeting in Wednesday’s Courier.