Property owners within the Dacula city limits may soon be hit with a millage rate increase.
The Dacula City Council met in a called session on Tuesday, June 21 to discuss a change to the city’s current 4.67 millage rate. If left unchanged, the city will collect significantly less revenue than in 2010 according to Dacula Mayor Jimmy Wilbanks.
“Nobody wants to do a tax increase,” he said. “If we leave it where we are, we’re going to be $80,000 in the hole.”
Wilbanks said more layoffs would be necessary if the rate is not increased.
“It could be 4.67 if the council will tell me who they want fired,” Wilbanks said. “Our budget is so tight now, if we have an $80,000 decrease in our tax collections, we’re going to have to lay people off.”
Another option would be to increase the rate to 5.3 mils. That rate, Wilbanks said, would result in the city collecting approximately the same amount as last year.
“We would be about a thousand dollars short of collecting as much as we did in 2010,” he said.
The favored option is increasing the millage rate to 5.128. That option, according to Wilbanks, legally would not constitute a tax increase.
“The tax digest has fallen off so much, we won’t collect as much money,” Wilbanks said.
This year, the city’s tax digest has fallen by $12 million. Even if the rate is increased to 5.128, the projected collections would be $22,000 less than the city's 2010 revenue.
“Even with the 5.128 millage rate, city residents -- the great majority of them -- will end up paying less than they did last year,” Wilbanks added.
All three millage rate scenarios were discussed during the June 21 called meeting. No media was present for the deliberations. In what City Administrator Jim Osborne described as an oversight, notice of the meeting was not posted on the city’s website nor was Dacula Patch notified.
Patch learned of the meeting after seeing the following Facebook post on the evening of June 21:
“Attended a special Dacula City Council work session tonight to discuss a possible increase in the property tax millage rate. They decided to set three the first public hearings for a 5.128 percent increase. Council has to increase the rate for fewer losses in revenue or keep it the same & find ways to make up for the 80k loss due to plummeting home values.”
The author of the post, Dacula resident Vanessa Green, said she was notified of the meeting by Dacula City Councilman Gregory Reeves about an hour and a half before the meeting was scheduled to start. Green said she was the only person present not employed by the city.
In response to an emailed inquiry Tuesday night regarding the meeting notification procedure, Dacula Mayor Jimmy Wilbanks explained: “It was advertised. A called work session to go over the numbers. Sorry it didn’t make it on the web site. No decisions were made, just discussed the millage rate procedure.”
This morning, when reached by phone, Wilbanks said the decision to call the meeting was made on June 16.
In compliance with the Georgia Open Meetings Act, the city did publish notice of the called work session in the county’s legal organ, the Gwinnett Daily Post (see image). Additionally, notice of the meeting was posted inside .
“It was posted on the bulletin board and that’s all that is really required for a called meeting,” Wilbanks said.
The Georgia Open Meetings Act, O.C.G.A. 50-14-1, requires that written or oral notice be given to the county legal organ. Though notice was sent to the Gwinnett Daily Post classified section, Post editor Todd Cline said, to his knowledge, Gwinnett Daily Post newsroom personnel were not notified.
Wilbanks described the meeting as just a work session in which no vote was held.
“Part of the discussion in these meetings is to determine what has to be advertised. We’re certainly not trying to hide anything,” he said.
However, Wilbanks acknowledged the subject of a potential tax increase was of public interest and that he did not know why notice was not placed on the city’s website once the decision was made last week to hold the meeting.
“I don’t know,” he said. “We’ve been holed up with four or five different things here and it just didn’t get up. I don’t know why.”
Wilbanks said the purpose of the 30-35 minute meeting was simply to discuss the tax digest and to look at potential scenarios for the millage rate and decide how many public hearings are required prior to setting the rate.
“It’s one of those things we have to rush through and get done because the county has to have that millage rate,” Wilbanks said. “Every year, we’re in the same situation. We have to have called work sessions and called meetings so that we can actually meet their deadline.”
The city has since posted information about the proposed millage rate increase and the public hearing on the city’s website.
The next regularly scheduled meeting of the Dacula City Council will be the June 30 work session. The council has set a public hearing on the proposed millage rate increase for July 12 at 6 p.m. followed by a called council meeting at 7 p.m.