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Forum crowd asks mayor about numerous topics

A crowd of about 100 people gathered for a public forum hosted by Mayor Teresa Tomlinson on Thursday night at the Frank Chester Recreation Center.
A crowd of about 100 people gathered for a public forum hosted by Mayor Teresa Tomlinson on Thursday night at the Frank Chester Recreation Center. mowen@ledger-enquirer.com

A crowd of about 100 people packed the Frank Chester Recreation Center Thursday night for Mayor Teresa Tomlinson’s third quarterly public forum of 2016.

The crowd asked questions about a variety of topics ranging from police misconduct, dilapidated neighborhoods and houses and park facility maintenance to the property tax assessment freeze referendum on the November ballot.

One unidentified man asked Tomlinson what a member of the public can do if he or she thinks they are being mistreated by police. Tomlinson replied that citizens have numerous options if they are dissatisfied by police behavior.

Tomlinson said citizens can bring their complaint to her directly as public safety director, to Columbus Council or to the Public Safety Advisory Committee, locally. If they are still not satisfied, residents can take their complaint to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and even to the federal Department of Justice. Ultimately, there are also remedies to be found in the courts, too, she said.

“It’s not tolerated,” Tomlinson said. “(Complaints) are referred to our Professional Standards Department and a full investigation is done on those kinds of complaints.”

Two men stood to oppose the referendum to “thaw” the tax freeze. One, Cecil Calhoun, a retired Air Force pilot, said he feared that eliminating the freeze could lead to the city losing the 2008 Other Local Option Sales Tax, 70 percent of which goes toward public safety. Because having a tax freeze in place was one of the enabling conditions on the legislation allowing the 2008 vote, removing it could threaten the sales tax, he said.

“If we lose the tax freeze, have we lost one of those prerequisites that provided for the 2008 sales tax?” Calhoun asked.

Tomlinson said there is no reason for that concern. One, she said, the referendum will not eliminate the freeze. Under the new system, everyone under the freeze up until Jan. 1, 2017, would remain under it as long as they own their home. Eventually, decades down the road, the freeze would still be in place, there would just be no one left who qualified for it.

“The reason it’s called a ‘thaw’ and not ‘lifting the freeze’ is because the freeze will actually just be retired, but continue to exist,” Tomlinson said.

Second, Tomlinson said, because the OLOST was created by referendum, it can only be removed by another referendum.

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