Mayor: F'ville tax rates to be 'level' this year

Fayetteville Mayor Ken Steele says he anticipates “level” property taxes this year and defends his involvement in state and regional organizations during an interview with The Citizen.

Steele amplified some of his comments contained in a column printed in this issue (Page A5). Steele sees only positive benefits coming out of his affiliation with state and regional organizations and links those experiences with the ability of Fayetteville to continue to weather the recession while keeping property taxes level for nearly two decades.

Steele in the column noted that he believed the tax burden to city residents would stay on an even keel this year. Expanding briefly on that position, Steele on Friday said, “It has been our long-term goal to have level taxes. We’re staying on top of sales tax revenues and we don’t anticipate having to raise property taxes. We do anticipate that property tax revenues will remain level.”

Steele has been both praised and criticized for his presence on the proposed regional one-cent sales tax Regional Transportation Roundtable and his longtime affiliation with the Atlanta Regional Commission and the Georgia Municipal Association. Some critics, especially in transportation issues, portray him as someone willing to consider the needs of the region over the needs of his community.

Yet aside from disagreeing with that perspective, Steele maintains that the affiliation and the interaction with others outside the city and county, both on his part and that of others in city government, have paid dividends in ways that have benefitted Fayetteville residents.

The Fayetteville City Council began instituting cost-cutting and cost-saving measures such as job and age freezes early on, before the word “recession” was used. Steele credits some of the city council’s cost reduction measures to information he gleaned from listening to others from around the region and the state.

“One of the benefits of being involved outside the community is that you get to hear others from around the state talking,” Steele said. “If you listen you can learn something. It broadens your perspective and your horizon.”

Steele also maintained that being aware of adverse conditions by communicating regularly with those outside the community, and working with city staff who interact in a similar fashion, serves to help weather whatever the recession brings.

“We have an outstanding staff from top to bottom, committed to public service. And everybody at City Hall is cross-trained,” Steele said. “We anticipated (the recession) three or four years ago and we were prepared for it.”

Those words are confirmed by the numbers. Aside from the .25 mill roll-up last year that accompanied a nearly 8 percent decrease in the tax digest, Fayetteville’s last true property tax increase came in 1993, according to city records.

Steele in his column also noted that Fayetteville had leveraged county, state and federal funds to accomplish some transportation projects. He said an example of that leveraging came in the form of sidewalks and the path system where federal grants funded 80 percent of the cost of the projects.

Locally, and through the previous one-cent sales tax for transportation, Fayetteville has been approved by the Fayette County Commission for a project that will involve Ga. Highway 85 North, Ga. Highway 92, Hood Avenue and North Jeff Davis Drive to provide transportation alternatives. That project could see construction by 2013.

And, later this year, motorists at the Grady Avenue/Beauregard Avenue intersection will begin using a roundabout designed to curtail lengthy waits at the traditional four-way stop.