(pictured above: Council members Derwin Montgmery and Molly Leight address residents’ concerns last week.)
The New South Community Coalition is calling on the city to scale back its proposed bond referendum.
Members held their second round table discussion on Tuesday, July 8 at the Georgia Taylor Recreation Center to address the impact of rising tax rates. City Council members Derwin L. Montgomery and Molly Leight were on hand to address concerns and answer questions about the $175 million bond referendum, which will likely appear on the ballot in November.
The proposed bond includes $42.35 million for transportation, $30.85 million for recreation, $31 million for public safety, $25 million for economic development and $10 million for housing development. A $17.5 million project to refurbish the Benton Convention Center and a $18.3 million renovation of the former Union Station are also slated but will not require voter’s approval because they will be covered by a mortgage structure bond.
If approved by voters, the city property tax rate would increase by 2.5 cents for every $100 of taxable property by July 2015. This means the owner of a $200,000 home would pay $50 more in property taxes. The city’s budget already calls for a one cent (from 53 to 54 cents per $100) property tax hike. This would be in addition to the bond tax increase.
The New South Community Coalition, which is made up of neighbors and neighborhood associations from throughout the South Ward, is calling on the City Council to adopt what it calls a “no frills” bond referendum that would cap the tax increase to no more than 1.5 cents by scaling back some projects.
New South Community Coalition Chairman Robert Leak III said the “no frills” plan was devised after an hours-long meeting of more than 20 residents from various neighborhoods. During the meeting, attendees ranked bond items in terms of importance. The Coalition’s proposal would cut $10 million from economic development and $13 million from parks and recreation.
Leak said economic development dollars should be invested with local, small businesses and companies that commit to paying their workers decent wages.
“We need to make sure that we are bringing jobs to our city that are going to stay and be able to pay their employees enough to live above the poverty level,” Leak said.
The Coalition’s proposal would reduce the size of the bond (he portion that would be voted on) from $139.2 million to $118.45 million.
Leak said that the referendum should be focused on the needs of residents and not just what the City Council wants.
But leaders say the bond proposal was designed to address the needs and concerns of residents.
City Manager Lee Garrity said by phone last week that council spent a lot of time hearing from residents.
“They had several workshops in March and April discussing all of our capital needs. In May, we had nine public meetings where we went out to different neighborhoods in different wards to get feedback for the projects,” he said.
Leight said the council tried to weigh the needs of the city and residents with concerns about tax hikes.
“There is a balancing act,” said Leight, who represents the South Ward. “You don’t want people to be over burdened to the point that they crash but people demand a certain level of service. Do we stop providing some of those services in order to keep from raising the taxes? That is just substituting a fee for part of what your taxes take care of.”
After the meeting, Montgomery, who represents the East Ward, said the issues raised by the coalition are valid.
“I think there were some legitimate questions,” he said. “I think what the (city) council did, and the groups that we had take a look at what we are doing, was take a holistic approach to say, ‘What are our needs and how can we accomplish a portion of that with the proposed bond referendum.’”
There will be a public hearing on the proposed bond referendum on Aug. 4 at City Hall at 7 p.m.
Read more about the proposed referendum at http://www.cityofws.org/departments/budget/2014-bonds.