JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — The Johns Creek City Council passed a 2020 fiscal year budget that anticipates a property tax increase for next year.
The council approved the budget 6-0, with Mayor Mike Bodker absent due to illness, at its Sept. 23 meeting. The vote was made with relatively little debate after details were hashed out at a special called meeting Sept. 13.
In Johns Creek, the fiscal year runs Oct. 1 to Sept. 30. The property tax rate, or millage rate, is typically set in August to fund that year’s budget.
Bodker first presented his proposal for the 2020 budget Aug. 19. That proposal relied on $4.7 million rolling over from the current fiscal year to fund stormwater infrastructure improvements in the coming year.
The problem: that same night the council set the 2019 property tax rate at 3.552 mills, which reduces the amount anticipated to rollover into next year by about $2.4 million.
The council cut about $2.8 million from the mayor’s initial proposal, bringing the total budget to $62.5 million. But to stay balanced, the budget anticipates a 2020 property tax rate of 3.986 mills, an increase of about .44 cents for every $1,000 of taxable valuable.
“It feels good that we cut the property taxes at the last opportunity,” Councilman John Bradberry said, referring to the Aug. 19 action on the mill rate. “We’re also realizing that we’ve basically put ourselves in a position where it’s going to be tight this time next year. We’re basically going to need $2 million in extra revenue to come in through sales tax or other avenues if we are to avoid the need to raise the millage rate.”
Mayor Pro Tem Lenny Zaprowski admitted they “may have overcut” the 2019 tax rate and could be forced to raise taxes next year in order to fund necessary stormwater maintenance and complete the promised fire station.
“I think next year we’re going to have some eye opening,” Zaprowski said. “My concerns are we made some promises last year … Hopefully, we’ll get that fire station built because I think that people in that part of the city deserve it and that’s our job.”
Councilwoman Stephanie Endres, who proposed lowering the 2019 tax rate, had a different take.
“Why I’m excited about this budget is … we’ve changed our process for our millage rate to a look back because we establish our millage rate 10 months into the [fiscal] year,” Endres said. “Last year, as a standalone year, we looked at that and said we have $4 million left over. We should give that back to the residents.”
Because the city uses conservative estimates when creating its budget, revenue typically exceeds expectations and projects sometimes come in under budget. In 2019, revenue exceeded expectations by $3.2 million.
If 2020 outpaces predictions by a similar margin, a tax increase could likely be avoided, but that revenue is dependent on the strength of the economy and other factors that are outside the city’s control.
“At the end of the day, we could have a tax increase if that’s what’s needed to be done, but I have confidence based on trending that’s not necessarily going to be the case,” Endres said.
At the special called meeting, the council found $2.8 million in expenditure cuts by eliminating funding for access control, repairs to Seven Oaks Dam, match money for construction on Abbotts Bridge and parks data connectivity.
Additionally, the council reduced funding for facility improvements to the new City Hall and for stormwater infrastructure assessment and repairs.
The council made plans to reevaluate City Hall improvements, stormwater repairs and Abbotts Bridge six months into the fiscal year when more is known about the cost of those projects and the city’s revenue for the year.