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Springfield discusses cutting property taxes for seniors
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The Springfield City Council discussed the feasibility of eliminating city property taxes for senior citizens Tuesday.

“One of my goals in my campaign was eliminating property taxes, especially for the senior citizens,” Councilman Max Neidlinger said.

“When we go to the grocery store every week groceries are up,” said Springfield resident and senior citizen Hubert Crapps. “When we go to the drug store our medicine and everything else goes up. When we go to the gas pump everything is up.

“We have to adjust or either go without,” Crapps said. “When you live on a fixed income, you only have a certain amount coming in and you have to live on that.”

Crapps said he fears senior citizens will be forced out of their homes because they will not be able to afford the property taxes.

Councilman Kenny Usher said he thinks the council should take steps toward eliminating taxes and have qualifications for exception such as age limits and proof that the person owns and lives in the residence. Usher said the city could start with a reduction of the tax bill for seniors.

“We would have to do a study somehow to determine the potential number of residents who would be eligible so we can sit down with our budget and see what kind of impact it would have on us,” he said.

Neidlinger said there have been cost increases on local services that residents have had to deal with.

“We are to the point of working our budget,” he said. “We’ve got a new administrator coming on board. This is the time that I really feel like for us to sit down and work for a common goal.”

Neidlinger said the city is taking on an extra expense, but he thinks the council can make this happen.

Neidlinger said he thinks eliminating property taxes will help attract businesses.

The city budgeted approximately $189,000 in revenue from property taxes for 2007.

Councilman Charles Hinely said he believes eliminating the property tax will help in the annexation process.

Councilman Dennis Webb said he agrees the council should be as efficient as possible with taxpayer money.

“I think we’ve reduced the millage every year for the last three years,” he said. “Our sources for revenue for the general fund are pretty limited — they are property tax and local option sales tax. SPLOST is dedicated to capital improvement, so we have to be very careful with that. It is a fear of mine that we could lose that local option sales tax.

“I’m always for efficiency and for lowering taxes where we can, but we also have to be aware that we have to maintain sound financial policy,” Webb said.

Webb said he will work for the remainder of his term for the city to be as efficient as it can, but the council should also remember that when a city manager is hired, salary and benefits will cost approximately $100,000.

“We have to be very careful, and be aware of how we manage our revenue side, because part of it can go away, not of our own doing,” Webb said.

Webb said he doesn’t think the local option sales taxes would go away, but that has happened elsewhere.

“The problem is it’s based on population, and grow as we might, I’ll bet you in 2012 we’re going to have less percentage of the population than we did when we just renewed them,” Webb said.

Local option sales tax proceeds are expected to bring in $492,000 for Springfield.

Webb said it is a balancing act on growing and having the revenue to provide services to the residents. He agreed with Neidlinger that the council needs to be efficient and work together, and if the council can lower taxes it should do so.

Councilman Jeff Ambrose also believes property taxes should be eliminated.

“It would help us out with annexation, especially along (Highway) 21, which is going to be a great commercial area sooner than later,” Ambrose said. “If we can get them eliminated, we can annex some of these areas for commercial.We can certainly get revenue.”

Usher asked how the city would have revenue from businesses if the property tax is eliminated.

“I don’t see that other than a property tax, or some kind of user fee,” Usher said. “Would a user fee be an annually renewable thing, or a one time thing?”

Usher said the city’s largest expense is labor, which is a fixed cost.

Hinely said if there is a way to figure out how to replace the revenue from property taxes the city should do it.

“It’s not that we take in that much money on city taxes,” he said. “It’s the word ‘taxes.’ If we want to grow, that’s one of the obstacles.”

Usher said currently eliminating the property tax would cut approximately 13 percent of the city’s revenue, not including SPLOST.

Neidlinger said the important thing is for the council to discuss the option and see if there is a way to eliminate property taxes.

Webb said it is the process of balancing the money coming in from various revenue sources and the city’s expenses.

“I didn’t know anything at all about it four years ago, and know almost nothing about it now, but I’m trying,” Webb said. “You can either start from a revenue side or an expense side, but you have to get to a balanced budget.”

Usher said he’s been talking about the issue with retired residents, and some he has come across have told him the city taxes are not an issue. But they want to make sure the city is spending money wisely. He said others do have to worry about taxes.

“There seems to be the sense out here that the city isn’t doing everything, giving people bang for the buck,” Usher said.

Mayor Barton Alderman said all of the things discussed should be considered during the budget hearings.