Mayor Teresa Tomlinson and former state Sen. Seth Harp debated the merits of her proposed “thaw the freeze” referendum tonight at Columbus High School.
During the debate, Tomlinson was asked to debunk some of the myths surrounding her effort to get the question on the November ballot. Statements that she is trying to “lift” the freeze instead of allowing it to sunset are among the most prevalent, she answered.
“Absolutely, the way it is crafted, if you have the property tax freeze, you’ll keep the property tax freeze,” Tomlinson said.
Harp was asked if the referendum makes it to the ballot and is passed, would it mean higher or lower taxes.
“If we do not keep the freeze, your taxes will go up,” Harp said. “Plain and simple, your taxes will go up.”
Harp was asked what effect the freeze has had on growth in Columbus.
“It’s been good for growth,” Harp said. “People who move here stay here because they like the tax structure that exists in Columbus, Ga.”
Tomlinson countered that the freeze not only restricts growth, but it prevents the city from reaping the benefits from what growth the city does see.
“When we have someone new move to the city, almost the very next day, they begin to pay us less in taxes than the value of the services we’re providing,” Tomlinson said. “Why? Because we’re not keeping up with the cost of doing business, and that’s because 25 percent of the people are being subsidized by the other 75 percent.”
Harp said if anything is harming growth, it’s crime. And the city government needs to make that a higher priority than providing amenities.
“The first thing that we need to do is to add adequate police services that in the long run will make our community a safe place to live,” Harp said.
Tomlinson responded that Columbus spends more on public safety that any other city in Georgia.
“We pay the highest per capita fee for public safety of any community in the state of Georgia,” Tomlinson said. “We pay $618 per person for public safety. The next highest city is Savannah, at $478 per person. We pay 45 percent of our entire budget goes to public safety.”
The debate, which was co-hosted by the Young Republicans and Young Democrats of Muscogee County, was the second such debate between Harp and Tomlinson.