City leaders will hold the last of three public hearings on a proposed sales tax at 6 p.m. today at Baker Middle School, 1215 Benning Drive.
They have pledged to devote to public safety 70 percent of the $36 million the tax would generate annually, and 30 percent to roads, bridges and other projects.
Among the other projects that could be financed with the tax revenue are a second ice rink at the Columbus Civic Center, an aquatic center near the Macon Road library and a citizens service center, also near the library.
City Manager Isaiah Hugley cited these amounts of money that the city has for those projects, and still needs to finish them:
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— For the swimming center, about $3 million left from a special-purpose sales tax voters approved in 1999, with $7 million more needed to make up the estimated $10 million price tag.
— For the extra ice rink, the city in 2003 issued bonds to get $3 million to spend on the rink and a skate park. The skate park now under construction at Columbus' South Commons is to cost $700,000. So the city has about $2 million left for the rink, which is to be built as an extension of the Civic Center. It needs $3 million more, as the rink is estimated to cost $5 million.
— For the citizens service center, where residents could buy car tags or conduct other government business, the city has $3 million from the 1999 sales tax, but needs $7 million more to make up the estimated $10 million cost.
If voters approve the sales tax referendum July 15, the tax will take effect Jan. 1, after two Special Purpose Local Option Sales Taxes are expected to expire — the city's 1999 sales tax that's raising $255.4 million for special projects, and the Muscogee school district's 2003 sales tax raising $148.7 million. Columbus' total sales tax, now at 7 cents for every dollar spent, would drop to 6 percent.
The new tax would take effect halfway through the city's 2009 fiscal year, which runs July 1-June 30, so a full year's worth of revenue will not be in the bank until fiscal year 2010. Then Columbus Council by law would have to roll back some city property taxes.
Were the sales tax to pass, most property owners in the fall of 2010 would see their property tax bills drop by 9 mills. A "mill" is $1 of tax for every $1,000 of a property's taxable value. For a house worth $100,000 and assessed at $40,000 for taxes, that's $40 per mill, or $360 for 9 mills. But this likely would be a one-time tax break. In the next fiscal year, city leaders again could raise the millage rate back to its previous level.
Proposed public safety expenditures include adding 100 police officers to the current 388; adding 10 new patrol zones to the present 26; building two new police precincts and replacing two aging fire stations; building a jail addition to house 600 more inmates; hiring 12 sheriff's deputies and 66 new corrections officers; and annually paying every city law enforcement officer a $3,000 supplement.
Proposed road widenings include Moon Road, Forrest Road and Whitesville Road.