Property taxes in Aiken could soon increase. But there's also some maneuvering to prevent that.
The Aiken City Council on Monday night gave first approval to an ordinance that would increase the millage rate by two points – 62 to 64 – for fiscal year 2019-20. The vote was 5-1.
City Council member Andrea Gregory voted against the measure, later saying: "I want to see the numbers." City Council member Dick Dewar was absent.
The Monday approval appeared to be a gesture aimed at stirring discussion and setting the stage. City staff was instructed at a preceding work session to drum up other, increase-free options. Mayor Rick Osbon said exercising "extra due diligence" was the right move.
Ordinances require two approvals to go into effect, and the one pertaining to millage could be amended before the final reading and vote. City Council typically handles millage as a separate, but related, budget matter.
A two-mill bump – notably below the allowable maximum – would raise taxes $13.20 on a $165,000 house, according to City Manager Stuart Bedenbaugh.
"It's cheaper now than it's ever going to be," City Council member Ed Woltz said during the work session, making mention of fiscal responsibility.
City Council member Lessie Price on Monday said the city has consistently kicked the can down the road. At a previous meeting, Price "pointed out" tough decisions need to be made for "longterm" security, according to City Council meeting minutes.
City Council member Ed Girardeau favors delaying a millage increase if at all possible.
"I would like to defer it to next year," Girardeau said, adding that he is happy to go on the record about that.
With a millage rate of 64, one mill would reap about $176,400 of revenue per year, according to a draft budget included in City Council's meeting packet.
Property taxes account for 40 percent of the city's general fund budget, per the same information.
The millage rate in Aiken has not increased in 30 years. It's also decreased a handful of times.
Bedenbaugh during the work session said the city has "relied on growth for a number of years." The city manager previously described a millage increase as "big news," according to City Council minutes.
City Council has discussed the millage rate – potentially hiking it – during many recent meetings. The panel has held at least seven budget-related work sessions this year.
Bedenbaugh early in the night said the drafted two mills are "primarily dedicated" to public safety. That includes fleshing out a substation along Laurens Street – the old Aiken Department of Public Safety headquarters.
A draft budget for Aiken County includes a millage increase, as was previously reported in the Aiken Standard.
City Council members recognized the county-level news during their work session.