Mayor submits budget to Athens-Clarke Co Commissioners

Public hearings later this month

Athens local — Athens Mayor Kelly Girtz has submitted his budget blueprint to Athens-Clarke County Commissioners, who are expected to vote on the $148.1 million plan on June 1. Between now and then, there will be three public hearings, the first on May 11, the second a week later on May 18, and the third before the Commission vote on June 1. The budget proposed for the Fiscal Year that begins in July is 5 percent higher than last year’s. 

From the Athens-Clarke Co government website…

The Fiscal Year 2022 Mayor’s Recommended Budget for July 1, 2021 through June 30, 2022 for the Athens-Clarke County Unified Government has been submitted to the Commission for review. This budget is balanced and includes a General Fund Operating and Capital Budget that totals $148.1 million for FY22, which is 5.4% higher than the FY21 level.

The budget year begins on July 1. In advance of the beginning of the fiscal year, departments and constitutional officials submit operating and capital budget requests for review by the Manager and the Mayor. The Mayor submits a recommended budget to the Commission for review by April 30 each year. The Commission reviews the Mayor’s Recommended Budget and can make any adjustments necessary prior to adopting the budget in June.

The FY22 Mayor’s Recommended Budget proposes a millage rate of 13.70 for property tax year 2021, the same rate as last year. Each mill of this rate produces $1 of taxes for every $1,000 of assessed property value as determined by the Tax Assessor’s Office.

Before the Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission finalizes the FY22 Budget and sets the 2021 millage rate, Georgia law requires three public hearings to allow the public an opportunity to express their opinions on the budget.

Additional specific information on the FY22 Mayor’s Recommended Budget is available at www.accgov.com/budget. A budget summary section is also available as part of the overall budget document.

Budget priorities agreed to by the Mayor and Commission at their most recent retreats helped to guide the development of the FY22 Mayor’s Recommended Budget. Some of the major items included in this budget are:

o The Jerry NeSmith Behavioral Health Co-Responder Unit will be bolstered with four additional Licensed Clinical Social Workers, who will be paired with re-deployed ACCGov Police Department officers to create a total of seven units. ($336,000)

o Athens Transit will be supported with American Rescue Plan, Federal Transit Administration funds to remain fare-free and expand to the pre-pandemic complement of routes. This entirely relieves the General Fund of this operational need and is intended to continue in FY23 and serve as a bridge to sustained maintenance and operations funding through the next TSPLOST referendum. ($3.4 million annually)

o Workforce development for high-demand ACCGov careers will continue through the work of the Athens Community Corps (A-Corps) program once initial funding from the Athens Resiliency Package is exhausted in FY22 ($273,000).

o The Police Youth Cadet Corp will be re-instituted to provide a pipeline to employment in the Police Department for local high school students. It includes two supervisory positions and 10 part-time positions. ($184,000)

o The three-year pilot program of the Young Urban Builders will be extended. The program provides trade skills to high school youth and supports home repair needs of those in Athens without the means to provide for their homes’ ideal physical upkeep. ($100,000)

o Continued renovations to both the Lay Park Community Center and East Athens Community Center to include art rooms and programming equipment software to include video production/editing, graphic design, and robotics. ($190,000)

o Diversity, equity and inclusion training, which began for some ACCGov employees in FY21, will be expanded to the entire ACCGov workforce in FY22. ($135,000)

o A Human Resources Generalist focused on minority recruitment to work with the Inclusion Office, Economic Development, and other ACCGov departments on pathways for diversity in employment. Other ACCGov workforce initiatives include a Fire Department career pathway with the Clarke County School District; the Great Promise Partnership; internships; and the Inclusion Fellowship Program. ($70,000)

o A new Community Engagement Coordinator position in the Public Information Office. This position would focus on resident interaction and engagement initiatives, including assisting with public meetings and outreach, collecting community data, and enhancing ACCGov outreach practices. ($90,000 for salary, benefits and operational expenses)

o ACCGov employee compensation is targeted for a 2% increase for non-public safety employees ($627,000), while the continued implementation of the structured Public Safety Pay Plan is funded. ($1.9 million)

o Funding to study the development of a $15/hour wage floor for all ACCGov employees, which will require careful adjustment to a range of employee pay and classification across tiers to conduct successfully. ($30,000)

o Targeted capital expenditures totaling approximately $5.5 million, an increase after the reductions of FY20 and FY21, intended to extend the life of existing assets and program areas. This is particularly focused on lifecycle maintenance for existing parks and facilities.

o Across all funds, the recommended budget will add 12 full-time positions, including 10 new positions and two full time positions converted from four part time positions. Five of the 12 additional full time positions are in the General Fund, including a Community Engagement Specialist in PIO, a Senior HR Generalist in Human Resources, an Energy Program Coordinator in the Sustainability Office, and two Neighborhood Service Officers in Police. With the new positions, the total number of ACCGov authorized positions is 1,741. At this level, ACCGov’s ratio of full-time positions to community population remains below 14 per 1,000 citizens.

As the Tax Assessor’s Office updates the estimated market value of taxable property - called the tax digest - Georgia law requires local governments to calculate a “rollback” millage rate. The FY22 rollback millage rate is calculated as the millage rate needed to produce the same total revenue on the 2021 tax digest that the FY21 millage rate would have produced had no reassessments or inflationary increases occurred to property such as land, buildings, and improvements.

The recommended 13.70 millage rate for 2021 would increase estimated property tax revenues by 5.77% over the rollback millage rate. This increase in revenue over the rollback millage rate is due to inflationary growth or reassessment growth in the market value of existing real property.

This does not mean all property owners will see a 5.77% increase in their property taxes. Individual taxes are based on the current assessed value of real property that may remain the same, increase, or decrease depending on the market value of each parcel of property.

Without this tentative property tax revenue increase, the FY22 millage rate would be no more than 12.953 mills. The proposed tax increase for a home with a fair market value of $225,000 is approximately $59.76 and the proposed tax increase for non-homestead property with a fair market value of $275,000 is approximately $82.17.

Based on the recommended millage rate of 13.70, a homeowner of an average-priced home will continue to pay similar or lower property taxes than many neighboring and similar-sized communities in Georgia. A report comparing tax mills, taxes, and exemptions for Athens-Clarke County and both local and comparably-sized communities is available at www.accgov.com/budget.

The Athens-Clarke County Commission is scheduled to adopt the FY22 Budget at their Regular Voting Meeting on Tuesday, June 1, 2021 at 6:00 PM.

Before the Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission finalizes the FY22 Budget and sets the 2021 millage rate, Georgia law requires three public hearings to allow the public an opportunity to express their opinions on the increase. In addition to these three required public hearings, the Athens-Clarke County Commission is scheduled to review the FY22 Mayor’s Recommended Budget at a series of meetings.

The Mayor and Commission is currently scheduled to meet remotely for these meetings. All Mayor and Commission remote meetings are broadcast live on ACTV Spectrum Cable Channel 180 and streamed live and on-demand on the main @accgov YouTube and Facebook accounts and online at www.accgov.com/videos.

Public comment on the FY22 Budget will be accepted online and through remote audio input for some meetings. Public comment for the three Taxpayer Bill of Rights public hearings will also be accepted in-person at City Hall through a virtual public comment setup in the Commission Chamber with safety measures in place, even if the meeting itself is remote.

More information is available on each meeting agenda once posted at www.accgov.com/agendas or by calling the Clerk of Commission at 706-613-3031.

The upcoming budget-related meetings will take place:

o Tuesday, May 11 - 5:30 PM - Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights Public Hearing #1 (at City Hall, Commission Chamber at 301 College Avenue) followed by Mayor and Commission budget review (held remotely)

o Thursday, May 13 - 5:30 PM - Mayor and Commission budget review (held remotely) – online public comment only

o Tuesday, May 18 - 6:00 PM - Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights Public Hearing #2 and FY22 Budget public hearing (at City Hall, Commission Chamber) followed by the Mayor and Commission Agenda Setting Meeting (held remotely)

o Thursday, May 20 - 5:30 PM - Mayor & Commission budget review (held remotely) – online public comment only

o Tuesday, May 25 (if needed) - 5:30 PM - Mayor & Commission budget review (held remotely) – online public comment only

o Tuesday, June 1 - 6:00 PM - Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights public hearing #3 followed by the Mayor & Commission Regular Voting Meeting (at City Hall, Commission Chamber) to adopt FY22 Budget and 2021 millage rate (held remotely)

The FY22 Mayor’s Recommended Budget can be reviewed on Athens-Clarke County’s Web site at www.accgov.com/budget.

Copies of the FY22 Mayor’s Recommended Budget will be available for public inspection during normal business hours at the Athens-Clarke County Library at 2025 Baxter Street. Copies will also be available in the Clerk of Commission’s Office in City Hall, 301 College Avenue, in Suite 204 and the Manager’s Office in City Hall, 301 College Avenue, in Suite 303 when City Hall is re-opened for public access.

Tim Bryant

Tim Bryant hosts Classic City Today, 6-10 weekday mornings on 98.7FM & AM 1340 WGAU in Athens.

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