Clarkston City Council sets tentative millage rate, discusses American Rescue Plan funding

The Clarkston City Council met on Tuesday, June 1, via Zoom for a regular meeting. The council discussed the 2021 millage rate, funding from the American Rescue Plan and the city's animal control ordinance. Photo by Zoe Seiler.

Clarkston, GA — The Clarkston City Council, at its June 1 regular meeting, adopted a tentative millage rate of 15.89 mills, which is the same rate the city has had since 2016. The rate would in effect result in a 9.16% tax increase due to increased property values, City Manager Robin Gomez said.

That rate will be advertised for the three public hearings on the millage rate, but the rate will likely decrease. The preliminary tax digest the city received from DeKalb County also included the rollback millage rate, which is the rate at which Clarkston would receive the same amount of revenue as it did in the previous year.

The rollback millage rate is 14.557 mills and would be an 8.4% reduction of the city’s millage rate.

“It would still allow us to generate a sufficient amount of revenue from the property taxes as well as other general fund revenues that we would receive the rest of this year,” Gomez said.

The city council members were in favor of the lower millage rate and Gomez recommended this be the rate the City Council eventually adopts. But the council kept the advertised rate at 15.89 mills. Once the rate is advertised, the city cannot increase the rate, but the rate can still decrease.

— In other business, the City Council determined how the city will spend the money it receives from the American Rescue Plan. Under the Biden Administration’s COVID-19 relief bill, cities will receive direct funding from the federal government. Clarkston will get just under $4 million.

The funding will be provided to cities over two years, with 50% in 2021 and 50% in 2022. The funds must be spent by Dec. 31, 2024, according to the agenda packet.

The city plans to provide similar programs as it did with CARES Act funding. Programs will include rental assistance, mortgage assistance, utility assistance and food distribution. The funding can also be used to provide assistance to businesses as well as make necessary investments in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.

One recommendation and concern raised during the meeting was that the start date for all the programs should be January 2021 as most of the previous round of funding from the CARES Act ended in December 2020.

“My concern is it’s all COVID related,” Vice Mayor Awet Eyasu said. “COVID did not start in March. COVID started in 2019. We are helping people who are impacted by COVID. As long as it’s COVID related, I don’t think that we would have any trouble helping people who have back rent and that is because of COVID.”

But Gomez clarified that the law states cities can’t go back that far and the funding has to be used for expenses beginning in March, when the bill was signed. Gomez and City Attorney Stephen Quinn added that they would confirm this stipulation.

“It’s definitely not supposed to be filling in a deficit,” Quinn said. “I think from a financial standpoint that would be filling in a deficit rather than new spending.” 

— The City Council also adopted an animal control ordinance. The city’s previous ordinance referenced DeKalb County’s animal control ordinance, and Gomez said it would be good for the city to have its own ordinance.

The document outlines the purpose of the ordinance, definitions, responsibilities, processes and also incorporates the city’s participation in the community cats program.

Conversations continued during the regular meeting about using the word “owner” to refer to the person who is in charge of an animal. Gomez said he did not find any city that uses a different term and said that “owner” was the most commonly used term in animal control ordinances.

The City Council decided to change the term to custodian rather than owner.

Quinn said that legally pets are property but didn’t think using the word custodian would be an issue.

— June 1 marked the beginning of Pride Month and the City Council adopted a proclamation recognizing Pride Month.

“We want to make sure that Clarkston is a welcoming community and we welcome all,” Mayor Beverly Burks said. “Since June is LGBTQ Month we want to make sure that our community know that we love and support them.”

Pride Month began in June 1969 on the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising in New York City after members of the LGBTQ community and allies fought against the constant police harassment and discriminatory laws at the time, the proclamation says.

“Whereas, the City of Clarkston cherishes the value and dignity of each person and appreciates the importance of equality and freedom,” the proclamation says. “Whereas, the City denounces prejudice and unfair discrimination based on age, gender identity, gender expression, race, color, religion, marital status, national origin, sexual orientation, or physical attributes as an affront to our fundamental principles.”

The proclamation goes on to state that the city remains committed to building a welcoming and neighborly community, where all individuals are welcome, accepted and integrated into the community.

The full proclamation can be found on the city’s website.

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