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Avondale Estates City Commission lowers millage rate

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Avondale Estates City Commission lowers millage rate

The Avondale Estates City Commission vote unanimously to lower the millage rate during a special called meeting on June 29, 2023, at City Hall. Photo by Zoe Seiler.

Avondale Estates, GA — The Avondale Estates City Commission lowered the millage rate by 0.25 mills during a special called meeting on Thursday, June 29.

The millage rate decreased from 9.8 to 9.55 mills.

For a home with an appraised value of $300,000 and an assessed value of $120,000, the property taxes would be $1,176 with a millage rate of 9.8. With the new millage rate of 9.55 mills, the property taxes would be $1,146.

The commissioners voted unanimously to lower the rate, but initially differed on what the millage rate should be. Mayor Jonathan Elmore and Commissioner Lisa Shortell suggested a reduction of 0.25 mills.

While Shortell was in favor of lowering the millage rate, she also emphasized the importance of putting money into the city’s capital fund.

“To me, part of the city’s responsibility is to put aside a portion of revenue each year for capital improvements,” Shortell said.

When Shortell ran for reelection in 2021, she wanted to see continued progress in downtown Avondale and diversification of the city’s tax base.

“My goals were to spend responsibly now to avoid future cost inflation and to incent new revenue to help keep resident taxes as low as possible. These things take time,” Shortell said. “I still believe wholeheartedly in the strategy of incentivizing downtown development. It’s working, and the best is yet to come.”

She added that creating a walkable and resilient downtown requires more than just a town green. The city has many needs in the downtown and residential areas.

“Our current two-year capital plan only reflects those items that were deemed by the BOMC to be most important in furthering our development strategy and addressing immediate needs in the residential area,” Shortell said.

Elmore added that the city has a lot of capital projects, especially when it comes to stormwater infrastructure.

“There are a lot of variables. There are a lot of things that you need to provide, and you need to have the right people to do it. You have to find this balance,” Elmore said. “I have wanted to take an incremental approach where every couple of years maybe we revisit the millage rate.”

He hopes the city will have a better balance as new projects come online, as tax abatements end and property values increase.

Commissioner Dee Merriam favored a reduction of 0.1 to 0.2 mills.

“I think the city had dug itself into a very deep hole by rolling back millages in prior years,” Merriam said. “I know we have not in the last five years, but I feel like we have a lot of projects that we are way, way behind in.”

She added that during the city commission’s recent strategic planning session, the board came up with a lengthy list of capital projects that don’t have the revenue to support them.

“When we did the paving, we were only able to around one-third of the repaving that’s on our list that needs to be done,” Merriam said. “We have not been able to repair the sidewalks that need to be repaired. We are trying to do some major investments in order to get a more balanced ratio between our commercial and residential.”

The city is still working on some major projects, like the U.S. 278 complete streets project, and those projects have various unknowns.

“I feel like it would be irresponsible to hamstring those projects that we’ve been articulating that we need to do that are further down the list that we have not been able to get to,” she said. “We have had significant property appreciation in the city, so I do support a minor rollback.”

Mayor Pro Tem Brian Fisher suggested a millage rate of 9.4 mills, and Commissioner Lionel Laratte agreed.

“I think, one, it puts some pressure on us to make sure that we begin to start to get what is truly the value of our central business district,” Fisher said. “We’ve got commercial property owners that aren’t paying their fair share.”

He added that while the commercial tax base in the city has grown, it still doesn’t represent a fair share when it comes to property taxes.

“I do think that we need to make sure as we go into this next budget cycle, we really do begin to look at how we are providing services to our residents and what we want as residents from those services and what’s the appropriate amount to pay for those [services],” Fisher said.

Laratte had advocated for a reduction of one mill. He acknowledged that option isn’t realistic but pushed for a greater reduction than 0.25 mills.

“I think it’s too low. I think that we could do better for residents and I think that we could find savings somewhere and make it work,” Laratte said.

Laratte added that the 0.25 reduction wasn’t going to make a big impact. He did vote in favor of reducing the rate but also asked his fellow commissioners to commit to pursue some type of tax relief for seniors.

The city is due to get a report back on tax relief for seniors. Elmore said he fully supports that. Shortell was hesitant to commit without having seen the data first. Merriam didn’t want to prematurely limit the city’s ability to proceed with capital projects.

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