The Statesboro City Council voted Tuesday evening to propose an increase in the millage rate for the purposes of increasing entry level salaries of police officers to keep the Statesboro Police Department competitive.
Mayor Jan Moore proposed an increase of half of one millage point. Citing the “critical need” for officers and safety, Moore told council members Tuesday that the increase is necessary. This would be the first time the City of Statesboro has increased the millage rate in 10 years.
Moore said that Statesboro property tax digest has been relatively flat the last few years. However, if there is an increase in collections and the millage rate is not rolled back, it is effectively a tax increase even though the millage rate is not increasing for property owners.
She also said she and City Manager Randy Wetmore have been concerned about the competitive pay for hiring police officers. Currently, 10 patrol officer positions are open.
“We are charged with protecting 20,000 students on top of our residents. So I want to make sure we are doing what we need to do to keep people safe,” Moore said.
Police Chief Mike Broadhead said the entry level police pay is low. So Moore said there are two options: Dip into the city reserves, which is not a long-term solution, or raise the millage rate.
Broadhead said the wage war is starting now and all of the wages are based off of the entry level pay. “If we get left behind, the story is going to get worse. We will have more problems with retention. We need to stay competitive. We need to find a wage that accomplishes that within the league we are playing.”
“When the state raised the pay for Georgia State Patrol troopers by 20%, it was game on,” Moore said.
A half of a mill increase would add $1.67 for each $100,000 to property tax bills each month. One mill would be an additional $3.33 each month for every $100,000.
Moore said she would like to see the money allocated specifically to the police department.
HR Director Jeff said Statesboro leads over the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office, Georgia Southern University, Pooler, Burke County, and Effingham County. But that leaves much ahead of the city. Currently starting salaries in Statesboro begin at $32,308 but Hinesville is at $33,721, Dublin is at $36,887, and Savannah starts at $39,000.
A half of a mill would give the starting salary a 5% bump.
Councilman Sam Lee Jones suggested going higher, up to one mill, to add funds to recreation, specifically for pools, and infrastructure.
Councilman John Riggs said something has to be done. “Every week there is something horrific in the newspaper.”
Councilman Jeff Yawn said, “We obviously have a problem.”
Councilman Phil Boyum said he’s spoken with people in his district and they don’t see an issue with the $1.67 a month for more patrol. And the commercial properties that would see a big jump, Boyum said they likely want their parking lots patrolled too.
Moore told council that if one mill is advertised, it can be adopted, or a lesser rate, or not an increase at all, but if only a half of point is advertised, then that is the highest rate that can be adopted.
Riggs suggested advertising for one mill and hearing from the public. Boyum said it will be up to the public to voice their opinion to their representatives.
The discussion tonight is not a final vote, only a proposal that could change as the process continues. The only vote made Tuesday was to set the dates for the public hearings.
Public Hearings, which allow for public comment, will be held as required by law on August 24 at 12:00 noon, August 24 at 6:00 p.m, and September 5 at 9:00 a.m. All meetings will take place at City Hall.
Mayor Moore, Councilman Phil Boyum, and Councilman John Riggs are all up for re-election this coming November.
“If someone told me we would be discussing a millage rate increase in an election year, I would have said, ‘You’re joking.’ But this is our community.”