DALTON, Ga. — Amid the mayor’s crusade to cut taxes, the City Council here voted to hold a November referendum giving voters the chance to eliminate a special property tax dedicated to city recreation.
Before the council voted on the referendum at its Monday night meeting, Mayor David Pennington assured concerned residents, “We are committed to funding recreation in this community.”
But, he said, recreation should be funded by the city’s general budget — not through a separate tax.
Still, some residents worry that recreation will get short-changed in the general budget.
Dalton resident Carolyn Roan spoke out against the referendum during the public comment period on Monday.
“I have a fear and a lot of people have a fear that it will turn into a diminishing recreation department,” she said.
“It needs to be separate in some way, shape or fashion,” Ms. Roan added, “so we do not diminish what we provide to our children.”
The recreation department tax funds services ranging from free team sports for children to park maintenance. Voters approved the special tax in the 1950s, and it now brings in about $3.8 million a year.
Among the facilities it funds is the Dalton Community Center.
Its director, Tom Pinson, said he’s on board with the mayor, pointing out that recreation is the only city department to receive a dedicated tax.
“It would bring the recreation department in line with ... the police and fire departments,” Mr. Pinson said.
The mayor announced a $9 million plan to rebuild the Community Center shortly after he was sworn into office this year. He now points to this plan as evidence of his commitment to recreation.
But city resident Linda White worries that a re-built Community Center won’t have the funding to offer the services it does now. “Refurbishing and continuing services are two separate issues,” she said.
Alderman Charlie Bethel cast the only dissenting vote Monday.
He said he’s in favor of re-examining recreation funding, such as rolling back the rate when property is reassessed. Eliminating the tax altogether, though, could reduce the reliability of recreation funding, he said.
“I view it is a threat to the community,” he said at the meeting Monday, referring to the potential removal of the tax. Mr. Bethel added, “I view this proposal as akin to treating a sinus infection with chemotherapy.”
Still, city resident and business owner Don Boring said voters should decide whether or not they pay a special tax.
“I’m not for doing away with the recreation center,” he said. “I simply think that this should be decided by the people and for the people.”