Kingsland removes sunset on tax increase

The 1-mill tax increase in Kingsland won’t sunset in five years after all. The sunset clause lasted just three weeks until Kingsland City Council met again on Oct. 23 and had to decide about the millage rate again because a sunset millage can only be used for one-time expenses, such as buying equipment.

A sunset millage cannot be used for recurring expenses, such as salary increases or new positions, unless another ongoing revenue stream replaces the 1 mill after it sunsets, according to city finance director Filiz Morrow. The 1-mill, which is about $400,000, is going toward public safety operations and council members have discussed funding salary increases. 

The vote went 3-1 with councilman Grayson Day opposing once again. Day said he was concerned about the state of the council and that council members had been given information about how a sunset millage can be used in the months prior to the vote.

The mayor asked for a motion to bring the millage back to the floor and councilman James Ham moved to table the decision until council received more legal information. Day seconded the motion, then things went sideways.

Mayor Kenneth Smith said he had asked and received information from the Georgia Municipal Association about the issue. Day said he didn’t think council should move forward if someone wanted clarification and that he hadn’t received that information if Smith had shared it.

“I don’t know where that got to,” Smith said when Day said he wanted to see the information.

“So I have questions about that,” Day told Smith. “I have questions about what you wanted to share because maybe it will change my mind. I don’t know but I do know before that vote, for months ahead of time we had circulated exactly what sunset funding could be used for and it reached every councilman and the mayor and it circulated many times. Then we took a vote and you actually put forward the option of a sunset clause on that funding. It was incorrect. It was incorrect. We know that now. Some of us knew before because we read the emails but it was voted on and here we are again. … Councilman Ham, who voted for it, feels like we need more legal information for what to do. I don’t see anything wrong with that.”

Responding to Day’s comment that he “seconded” Ham’s intention, Smith explained to Day twice that he couldn’t take two seconds on a motion that Day had already seconded.

Nearly 10 minutes into the discussion, councilman Jim McClain asked Ham to restate his motion.

“My motion was that we consider having a pay raise if everybody’s OK with—” Ham started before a chorus of “no, no, no” broke out from the audience and Day drowned him out. After talking with Smith, Ham said he made a motion to table the decision and Smith called for a vote.

Councilman Rick Winters and Day voted in favor of the motion. McClain and Ham voted against, leaving Smith with a tie to break. As the vote concluded, Smith said “OK, so we’ll table it until the next meeting.”

Day restated how everyone voted and how the mayor broke the tie and Smith responded, “I don’t have a vote here.” But you do in a split vote, Day said. I know, Smith told him.

“As far as I’m concerned, my vote is to go ahead with this,” Smith said.

“So you’re changing your vote,” Day said.

“I didn’t vote,” Smith insisted. “I did not vote.”

Winters joined Day in telling Smith that it was a split vote and Smith said, no, and listed how he thought each councilman had voted. Day called upon city attorney James Coppage to settle the issue.

“So, mayor, I think the vote was two for and two against,” Coppage said. “You did not announce whether you are for or against it, except impliedly you said ‘I guess we’ll table it,’ so can you clarify your vote?”

Smith then said council could go forward with bringing the decision back to council, making way for a motion to actually decide about the millage. Winters then made a motion to approve the millage rate and remove the sunset clause. Ham provided a second. 

The instant Smith opened the floor for discussion, Day jumped in, citing Ham’s motion at the Oct. 2 meeting to approve the millage at 7.46 mills. (The city’s millage rate was 7.5 mills. The rollback rate was 7.46 mills. The proposed increase was 8.5 mills. Ham’s motion failed 1-3 with Day voting in favor. McClain then made a motion for 8.5 mills that was approved 3-1.)  

“We clearly last meeting — I didn’t want to revisit this — but we had a motion put forward for the wrong millage after endless discussion, meeting after meeting, so we had at least some members of council who had no clue what the millage was supposed to be,” Day said. “Then we had the option of the sunset funding put forward by someone else sitting on this side of the table. Obviously, didn’t have any clue what that was and then we took a vote on that. As a seated council, we are supposed to be professionals who know exactly what we’re voting on. That’s obviously not the case. Tonight, we’ve shown a tenuous grasp on Robert’s Rules, that this city, that this governing body is supposed to abide by. I am concerned for the state of this council and our homework that we get paid to do before we show up at these meetings.”

Day added that in seven years on council he’d never seen members vote against one person’s desire to get more information.

“It’s clear that you do not approve of what we’ve been trying to do,” Smith responded. 

“No, don’t put words in my mouth,” Day replied.

“I’ve never had to do this before,” Smith went on. “I am ashamed of it, that we’re here going back and forth with each other. I am just as easy to work with, I would think, as anybody but since I know that you are adamantly opposed to this, all we’ve simply been trying to do for four or five months is try to make these two departments whole for the betterment of this community. I’m not trying to sit up here and be the elder in the room.”

As to the millage, Day said he was in favor of raises but those raises could be done without increasing the millage.

“We could go in and make specific (changes) and address little, small problems within the pay grades to address that and it wouldn’t cost half as much,” Day said. “But it takes work. And it takes us sitting down and figuring it out. We can’t just throw money at a situation and expect it to change everything.”

After trying to interrupt Day, Ham responded that council is a team and Day claimed he hadn’t done his homework.

“The difference is you’re talking all fast and stuff like that, you’re talking about Robert’s Rules of Order and that kind of stuff,” Ham said. “Just as you’re concerned, we’re concerned too and we have knowledge just like you do. If you want to talk all fast, let the other person talk and finish. When you don’t have a concern, you don’t say anything. When you’re concerned, you’re trying to talk all fast and talk over people and you’re changing the situation. That’s the reason why. That’s the reason why.”

Some in the audience met Ham’s comments with laughter. 

“You’re going to talk all forceful and stuff like that because you’ve got something you want to say,” Ham continued. “We’re all going to respect each other.”

“I was voting in your favor,” Day countered.

Smith apologized to the audience and the community for “these actions that we’re taking tonight,” saying it wasn’t necessary and maybe there were some errors in his judgment. Someone in the audience asked what the outcome was on the millage.

“If it calls for a vote from me or whatever to break the tie, I’ll break the tie in favor,” Smith said, 11 minutes after he broke the tie the first two times. “… We’ve already had it on the floor here. There’s two for and two against and I said I’ve got to break the tie.”

“But we’re on the second motion,” McClain said. 

Winters, McClain and city manager Lee Spell jumped in to explain that the current motion — to remove the sunset — hadn’t been voted on yet.

“So it’s for me to break this tie here,” Smith said, again sending a murmur through the audience.

“No, we haven’t called a vote yet,” Day replied.

McClain asked for the motion to be restated, Winters restated and Day clarified the motion again a few minutes later. Smith told Day to “please, don’t debate that out with the citizens.”

“Sir, I can state whatever I want to the public as long as I’m within the jurisdiction of my seat,” Day countered. “… Sir, I’m not debating it, thank you. I’m not discussing it. I was restating what we were voting on. Since when did that become illegal?”

“We have never did this before,” Smith said. “And now you want to pull something, I can sit here all night. I can sit here as along as you can.”

“… All I’m trying to do is repeat it for the public what we’re voting on because we weren’t clear two seconds ago,” Day said, as Smith talked over him.

Winters and McClain then voiced their support for a higher millage rate to help retain employees, according to McClain, and restore special units in the police department and refurbish fire trucks, according to Winters.

McClain also noted that council lowered the millage by a half mill last year and council had the option of reducing the millage in the future.

Council passed the motion 3-1 to remove the sunset clause and approve the millage at 8.5 mills. Day opposed.

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