Video: Columbus mayor makes case for lifting tax freeze during State of the City address
Mayor Teresa Tomlinson used her 2016 State of the City address today to restate her intention to “thaw” the city’s property tax assessment freeze and to “deputize” those present to carry forth her message.
Tomlinson said the city has had net zero job growth over the last 30 or so years, a fact that she places at the feet of the freeze.
“When you add to the revelation of our net zero job growth and our negligible population growth the fact that we are significantly outpaced by like-communities in a six state region that also have no U.S. interstate access, we have to stop and admit a hard reality to ourselves: the property tax freeze has hurt us,” Tomlinson said.
Tomlinson has touted her planned tax referendum for several years and has held numerous forums and a public debate on the subject. Columbus Council and the Muscogee County School Board voted recently to ask the local legislative delegation to place the referendum on the November General Election ballot.
Tomlinson’s proposal would not lift the freeze. Rather, the freeze would remain in place on all homestead property currently under it. When a piece changes hands, it would go into a new fair market valuation system which is in place in the vast majority of communities. Gradually, the freeze would be eliminated as more and more property changes hands.
“You are hereby deputized to go forth armed with facts and figures and a conviction that we will not repeat the mistakes of the past,” Tomlinson said. “I ask that you contact each member of our State Delegation and let them know you desire that this issue be on the ballot. “
Tomlinson also touched on her administration’s efforts to reduce homelessness, poverty and blight. She mentioned quality of life projects undertaken and those in the planning. She also spotlighted the city’s new Rapid Resolution program that has reduced the county jail population to the point that an entire wing was closed down.
Columbus has become one of only 70 cities in the country to be chosen to participate in a program called “Zero 2016,” designed to provide permanent housing and support services for the homeless, particularly homeless veterans, Tomlinson said.
“In just one year, we have reached the goal of ‘functional zero’ for our veteran population,” Tomlinson said. “Columbus has either housed all of its homeless veterans or has the capacity and resources to do so as other homeless veterans are identified.”
The coming revitalization of the city’s Metra bus system will make the city more attractive to younger workers, many of whom want to use public transit, Tomlinson said.
“That is the goal in Columbus, to have a public transit system that is so accessible so reliable, and so desirable that someone (opts) to leave the car in the garage in order to enjoy the experience of an excellent public transportation system,” Tomlinson said.
Tomlinson also pointed to the potential for economic development in currently blighted areas through the city’s new Redevelopment Powers Authority, allowing the city to establish tax allocation districts to spur investment. Just last month, Columbus Council approved creating a 1,232-acre district in south Columbus that is expected to drive $118 million in capital investment and create 1,800 new jobs to the area.
“This type of investment could be a game changer for south Columbus,” Tomlinson said.
She also reminded the crowd that council has said it would consider new tax allocation districts in the Sixth Avenue/Liberty Theater area, downtown and in the area between TSYS and Bibb City.
“We have borne witness to civic miracles. Because of our faith that the seemingly impossible is possible, we will find a way forward,” Tomlinson said. “We will not tolerate mischief-making or myth-based nay-saying to derail our opportunities to change to a more productive course. We each will pick-up the mantle and take responsibility for putting our community’s future on solid, more fertile, ground.”
Former Mayor Bob Poydasheff attended the luncheon, hosted by the Columbus Chamber of Commerce at the Columbus Trade and Convention Center, and called the speech one of the best he has heard Tomlinson deliver.
“”She hit the nail right on the head,” Poydasheff said. “The points that she made about allowing citizens to vote on an issue were good. That’s what democracy is all about.”
School Superintendent David Lewis was also present.
“I think it captured our successes as a community, as a city and it gave a vision for what needs to be done to keep moving forward as a city,” Lewis said.
Ron King, interim executive director for Home For Good, also said he thought Tomlinson hit the right chords in her speech.
“We have been given a gift, with the leadership, the vision, the energy and the can-do attitude that this woman brings,” King said, the former Pastoral Institute executive director. “I believe this city is poised to become an even greater city than it already is, and the quality of life can improve for all our citizens.”