Anyone who has been to council meetings before is not surprised at the picture before us.Concerned Guytpn resident
GUYTON — Three important sets of ears didn’t hear a thing at the Guyton City Council’s public hearing on a proposed tax increase Wednesday night.
Council Members Dr. Franklin Goldwire, Michael Johnson and Joseph Lee did not attend, leaving Mayor Jeff Lariscy and Steve Collins to answer questions from an audience concerned about a 52.04 percent hike in the city’s millage rate.
Just seconds before Lariscy called the meeting to order, he was on the phone with City Attorney Ray Smith. The mayor asked Smith if he could proceed with the hearing since there was not a quorum.
Smith gave Lariscy the go-ahead even though he was uncertain if the hearing would count toward the mandated three that must occur before a millage rate hike can be approved.
Several taxpayers voiced their displeasure with the absent council members.
“I would go on the record as saying that this should not count as one of those hearings because you don’t have the contingent of city officials,” one man said.
Lariscy replied, “And that’s unfortunate because everybody had agreed to be here at a very minimum by phone. Mr. Johnson was going to participate by phone but I couldn’t reach him.”
The mayor also said that Goldwire informed him that he wouldn’t be able to attend and that he hadn’t heard from Lee at all.
“Anyone who has been to council meetings before is not surprised at the picture before us,” another man said. “I’ve taken shots multiple times and seen the two of you (Lariscy and Collins) regularly and then a variety of cast of the regular council members. It’s ridiculous that we have an absentee council.”
Lariscy took the opportunity to urge audience members to run for council seats. He had five packets filled with qualifying papers in front of him.
“We do have three available seats,” he said.
In addition to the mayor’s post, the Post 1 (Collins) and Post 2 (Goldwire) seats will be up for grabs this fall. The qualifying period ends Friday at 4:30 p.m.
“I encourage everybody to give it some thought,” said Lariscy, who hasn’t qualified for re-election. “We need good citizens to sit in these chairs and make the decisions that Mr. Collins and I have been trying to make — and everyone else — to try to make the city move forward in the right direction.”
Lariscy was in the middle of explaining the need for a tax increase to meet its $1,184,135 general funds budget when citizens started complaining about the missing council members. He said that the tentative increase will result in a millage rate of 3.655, a hike of 1.251 mils.
For a home with a fair market value of $150,000, the tax hike would cost an additional $75.06. The proposed tax increase for non-homestead property with a fair market value of $100,000 is approximately $50.94.
The mayor said the City of Guyton lost “anywhere from $80,000-$100,00” over the last two years because the Effingham County Board of Commissioners didn’t make a service delivery payment.
“In 2018, the council was collecting 8.337 mills from everybody in the county for county (maintenance and operations),” he said. “Out of that 8.337 mills, the county was paying the municipalities a certain contribution for roads and recreation. It was part of our Services Delivery Agreement with the county.
“In the fall of 2016, or the winter, (county officials) decided they didn’t want to do that any longer and they reduced the county (maintenance and operations) rate to 6.558 mills, OK, but they also didn’t send the municipalities that service delivery payment and Guyton has been without that the last couple of years.”
Because the county rolled back its millage rate for maintenance and operations two years ago without a corresponding increase by the Guyton City Council, Guyton residents have been paying lower taxes, he said.
“It is my understanding that, from reading the rules and regulations from the services delivery agreement, the county was to have contacted us to let us know to actually review that agreement,” Collins added. “To my knowledge, none of that happened.”
“That is correct,” Lariscy replied.
“So there was a period of over a year that the city did not know (that the loss of funds from the county) had occurred, and I think that is unfortunate,” Collins continued.
Lariscy noted that the City of Guyton still has to make annual payments of about $25,000 on fire trucks even if a recent proposal for the county to take over fire protection in the city gains approval. The city will try to sell the trucks if an accord is reached.
Collins and the mayor also noted the poor condition of some of Guyton’s streets and the need to repave them.
“... Just the resurfacing of South Central (Boulevard) was $127,000 for the lowest bid, and that was for less than one mile of road,” Collins said.
The audience members who opted to talk later in the hearing expressed that they realize the city’s situation but they want to know what the council's plan is.
“I understand that if we have been behind the ball we need to catch up a little bit,” one resident said.
Additional hearings on the matter are set Aug. 29 at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. in council chambers at 310 Central Blvd.