COOLIDGE — The Coolidge City Council is preparing to raise the millage rate to pay for its fiscal year 2020 budget, and some residents are voicing their displeasure at the city’s spending habits.
During a budget workshop on Monday, an incident occurred where several strong comments were made in regards to the purchase of police vehicles using special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) funds.
“Someone raised their voice and that was the end of it,” said Council member Marty Creel. “That was about it. It was over as soon as it started.”
Coolidge resident Reece Yarbrough, who was present at the budget workshop, said one council member questioned why residents were only now attending city council meetings. He claims the council has long discouraged residents from attending public meetings, but now people are fed up with how their money is being spent.
“More and more citizens are now getting involved and speaking about issues because enough is enough,” he said.
Fellow resident Linda Smith, who was also present at the workshop, said there were instances in that meeting when the public did not feel welcome. She said speaking at city council meetings can be an intimidating experience for many people and that it’s incumbent upon council members to show respect.
Smith noted, however, that residents attending council meetings have the same responsibility to be respectful toward elected officials.
“Healing and forgiveness needs to take place in this town,” she said. “What’s in the past is in the past, but we can do better.”
The city has raised its millage rate in each of the last four years, but Mayor Diane Causey said a rate of 12.52 mills is needed in order to fully fund the proposed FY2020 budget.
If the mil increase doesn’t go through, Causey said the city would have to figure out other ways to pay for the budget.
“With electricity prices going up, with fuel prices going up, with costs of products going up, that’s kind of hard,” she said.
Maintaining a budget in Coolidge can be difficult, Causey said. There are six different departments with needs that have to be met, and the amount of money the city has available is limited.
“We try to operate the entire city with the general fund, with police service, with street service, with everything that the front office does, our court system, on less than what some houses cost in Thomasville,” Causey said.
Yarbrough, who is running for the city council in November, said there shouldn’t be any tax increases while the city has more than $1 million sitting in its general fund. In his view, the city has enough money to pay for any “what if” scenarios without having to burden taxpayers.
That view was echoed by Council member Kathy Keown, who provided the lone opposition vote Tuesday night when the council voted to tentatively raise the city’s millage rate by 0.49 mils.
“I just feel strongly about not raising taxes unless there is an actual need,” Keown said.
Keown’s own property taxes have been raised more than $250 over the past four years. She was the only council member to vote against a tax raise last year, and she believes she’ll be the only one to vote against another increase this time around.
A final vote on the mil increase will take place at the next regular city council meeting next month.