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Roswell picks streets, parks over tax cut

By Patrick Fox

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

In one of the year's first battles pitting tax cuts against quality-of-life issues, Roswell has come down on the side of keeping its coffers full.

Roswell's City Council voted Wednesday to shore up streets and parks and keep its property tax rate the same as it has been for the past three years. The vote came over protests from Mayor Jere Wood, who had fought for an approximately 2 percent reduction in what property owners pay the city in taxes. City Councilwoman Betty Price abstained from Wednesday's budget vote and opposed keeping the tax rate at its current level, favoring a reduction.

The debate drew comments from more than a dozen residents speaking at the final public hearing on the 2012 budget, which takes effect July 1.

"Any time we can get a tax rollback, we'd like to do that," said Tom Cork, who moved to the city from Alpharetta two years ago. "I think it would be a good political gesture. "

Resident Salma Ahmed, who chairs the Fulton County Board of Assessors, said the city can afford a small reduction in its tax rate. Any loss in tax revenue, she said, would be more than made up for in increases in sales tax revenue.

"There's absolutely no reason at this time to not cut back on taxes," she said.

Wood's proposal called for an approximately 2 percent drop in the tax rate on real estate, a move that would have reduced revenue by about $500,000 and cut the average homeowner's bill by about $12. Homeowners also are expected to see a decline of another $30 based on the anticipated fall in property values.

Wood's budget assumed an increase in sales tax, license and service fee collections to compensate for the loss in property taxes.

But Wood's proposal also had nothing earmarked for road resurfacing and called for reducing the city's contribution to its recreation programs by $179,000, asking participants to pay more of the freight.

That set off an outcry from other residents.

David Tolleson said if it were any other government asking for $12, he'd fight to keep it, but he felt confident in the city.

"In Roswell, I'm confident you'll be investing it in our parks, in our new fire station, in our quality-of-life programs ... all things that make it good to live here," he said.

"Forty-two dollars, twelve dollars ... Keep it," said Jay Small. "That's not going to help us. Some things that are going to help us are improving our roads, improving our infrastructure, making it easily accessible for us to walk around in our city."

Other residents said cutting back on recreation subsidies would threaten the city's biggest draw.

Only one of the six council members, Betty Price, supported Wood’s proposal to cut taxes. She abstained from the vote on the $63.4 million operating budget and voted against the 5.455 mill levy on property.

Councilman Jerry Orlans said the entire $500,000 difference in the two budgets would go toward road resurfacing. The council also voted to reinstate the $179,000 to the recreation participation fund.