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Mayor Girtz’s Proposed Budget Cuts Property Tax Rate, Boosts Police Funding

Mayor Kelly Girtz speaks at a debate held by the Athens Anti-discrimination Movement at the ACC Public Library on Saturday, Apr. 9, 2022. Credit: Sarah White

Mayor Kelly Girtz’s proposed $287 million budget for fiscal 2023, released last week, includes a property tax cut and millions of dollars for law enforcement and other areas.

The $16 million in new spending Girtz is proposing includes 7% raises for all Athens-Clarke County employees at a cost of $3.9 million to address turnover, a common problem for all employers in a tight labor market that human resources officials recently briefed commissioners on. On top of that, public safety employees would get another 6% raise. In addition, Girtz wants to implement “lateral transfers,” which would ensure that police officers from outside Athens who are hired for equivalent positions here won’t have to take pay cuts. Altogether, the public safety pay hikes would cost $2.4 million.

Girtz also revived the idea of a Police Youth Cadet Academy, which the commission stripped from the budget in 2020. “We wish for all of our departments, most of all the Police Department, to reflect our community, and believe this early engagement will support this goal,” he wrote in a letter to commissioners seeking approval for the budget.

Other initiatives include: $324,000 to provide community beautification jobs to prisoners transitioning back to the workforce; $80,000 for a Vision Zero coordinator to prevent traffic deaths; $70,000 to hire an EMS trainer in the Fire Department; $86,000 for public defender raises; $200,000 to give library employees raises; $200,000 for the Athens Area Homeless Shelter; $250,000 to help local nonprofits build their capacity; $174,000 to hire two new employees in Housing and Community Development; $90,000 for downtown events; $77,000 to manage forests and restore rivers; $200,000 for a Leisure Services master plan; $800,000 for stormwater improvements; and $2.2 million for park maintenance.

Although the budget process began well before any of Girtz’s challengers entered the race, many of those items address criticisms he’s heard on the campaign trail. In particular, police funding would rise by over $2 million, or 7.6%, including $102,000 for ballistic vest rifle plates sought by former chief Cleveland Spruill and more money in the five-year capital budget for vehicle replacement and other equipment requests.

All of those programs were made possible by an expected spike in tax collections for the coming year. Hotel-motel tax collections are estimated to rise $1.6 million, or 62%, as the pandemic recedes and the tourism and conference industries return to normal, and ACC starts to collect a new tax on short-term rentals like Airbnbs. Even with a proposed half-mill tax cut, property tax revenue is expected to rise by 9.5% due to a 19% increase in the tax digest. Sales tax revenue for the operating budget is projected to rise 15%, from $24.9 million to $29.9 million, not including separate voter-approved sales taxes for education, capital projects and transportation.

The full 499-page budget is available at, and a paper copy is kept in the clerk’s office at City Hall.

Commissioners will start their budget talks at a work session on May 10. They’ll take public comment at three hearings: 5:30 p.m. May 12 at the Planning Department building on Dougherty Street, 6 p.m. May 17 at City Hall and 6 p.m. June 7 at City Hall. The latter is the target date to pass the budget, which takes effect July 1.