September 22, 2013

Dalton council has delivered on promises

Last week, Dalton City Council members cut the city’s property tax rate for the sixth straight year.

To cut taxes six years in a row shows prudent fiscal management in any circumstances. To do it during one of the worst recessions in history demonstrates that city officials have kept a very tight grip on their purse strings.

The city’s property tax rate now stands at 2.616 mills, down 28.5 percent from 3.66 mills in 2007. During that same time, city officials cut the city’s operating budget by more than $3 million.

This couldn’t have been done without strong effort at all levels, from council members to department heads to each person who works for the city.

But much of the credit must be given to Mayor David Pennington. Voters elected Pennington in 2007 and re-elected him in 2011. Pennington, who is now campaigning for governor, ran both times on a platform of tax cuts and spending restraint. Under his leadership, the city kept a close eye on both spending and taxes. Officials didn’t hesitate to break with the past in their efforts to control the city’s budget, whether it was cutting garbage pickup to one day a week from two or asking, and getting, voters to approve abolishing the 1 mill tax dedicated to the recreation department.

Pennington has stepped on toes over the last six years.

Last year, for instance, under his leadership council members pursued and won a much larger share of Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) revenue than they’d been getting. They also got the Whitfield County Board of Commissioners to create special tax districts so that city property owners won’t pay for county services that are delivered primarily to those outside the city, such as the county fire department.

The city was able to win these concessions largely because of changes in state law that gave them more leverage in their negotiations and because of recent court cases ruling that city taxpayers can’t be taxed for services that go to those outside city limits.

Some county residents have grumbled that the city has shifted some of its costs onto them. City officials would say that the city has long subsidized the county.

No matter who is right, the job of city officials is to protect the welfare and interests of its residents.

For the last six years, city officials have done what they promised to do, cut the burden on property taxpayers. That’s something that few local governments in this state or this nation have been able to do.

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