City Manager ChaQuias Miller-Thornton said Stone Mountain’s property tax rate has historically been high because the city has a small corporate sector, meaning it has to rely more on residents to fund the city’s budget. Cities with larger corporate sectors, such as Brookhaven, Dunwoody and Tucker, have significantly lower tax rates.
Resident Mike Schaaphok told city leaders that he and his neighbors are frustrated with the high tax rate and what they see as a lack of impactful city initiatives and projects.
“There has not been one person who says that they feel that the taxes that have increased over the past four years has made their life in Stone Mountain better. Not one,” he said.
Councilman Clint Monroe, who argued for lowering the rate by five mills to provide a large tax cut for residents, was blunt when trying to channel voters’ frustration.
“It’s 15 mills or fight,” Monroe said. “And if you can’t remember that, November is coming.”
Miller-Thornton asked the council to vote to lower the rate, but she said that steep of a tax cut isn’t feasible with the city’s current budget. A millage rate of 15 mills would create a $458,000 budget shortfall, because the city usually only collects 91% of the property taxes it’s owed, according to her calculations.
How many pennies to pinch?
These are various millage rates the city considered for 2021. The city anticipates to collect 91% of what it bills for property taxes, and most millage rates would require budget cuts. City leaders ultimately opted for 17.8 mills.
City of Stone Mountain
“This current budget, Mr. Monroe, that we’re operating under is also the budget that you helped to approve,” Miller-Thornton said. “... What you are proposing at 15 mills just does not (and) will not work for our current scenario.”
Monroe argued the city could reallocate $233,000 that was set aside for a historic train depot renovation project to offset some of the budget deficit, adding that “belt-tightening” and “process improvements” could cover the rest. But three members of the council and the mayor disagreed.
Led by Monroe, three councilmembers voted for a rate of 16 mills, but Mayor Patricia Wheeler overruled that proposal following a tie vote. The city ultimately passed a rate of 17.8 mills, which keeps property taxes at the same level as 2020, with Wheeler breaking another tie vote.
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