The members of the Dalton City Council unanimously approved a 2019 budget Monday night despite pushback from former mayor David Pennington, who criticized the council members for not finding any cuts in the proposed budget after a four-week delay to look for them.
When the budget proposal was tabled on Nov. 19, council members said they hoped to find savings in the proposed $34.645 million budget, which would have been an increase of 6.87 percent from the $32.5 million in spending in the 2018 budget. Instead, the council members Monday night approved a 2019 budget of $34.72 million.
Pennington said the city had recently been listed as one of the 20 poorest cities in the nation and decried what he said are high taxes imposed on city property owners and a glut of governmental services.
“You can look in this community — particularly in the last five or six years — we continually plummet in the income scales (and) people wanting to live here, and just drive around the westside of town and look at the housing out there,” Pennington said. “Obviously, y’all really don’t care about cutting the budget at all. Because there is so much fat in every government’s budget. People are choosing not to live here because of things like that — high taxes and poor performing schools. We can talk about services all you want to, but more and more people do not want to live here.”
Mayor Dennis Mock fired back at Pennington, asking for more than just criticism of the council members.
“I’ll address David and his posse,” Mock said after the public comments section of the meeting, using a term that drew the ire of Pennington. “You told me right after I took office to manage the decline of Dalton, and you told me that subsequently I don’t know how many times. I personally feel that had we taken that action over the years I have been in office, we would actually be in decline. I think you get what you ask for and I just don’t believe in that. I think we all have to take a positive approach.
“Elected officials — you’ve been one — you have a target on your back,” Mock said. “But there is never any uplifting from you and your group. It is all we do it wrong. We do it wrong. You’ve got a better way? We never hear what the better way is, we just do it wrong. I’m not going to apologize for the budget or for the council members passing this budget. I applaud them, and for their hard work, I say thank you.”
Concerning the use of the word "posse," Pennington said, "I've never used that word," to which Mock responded, "OK, the group that hangs with you" after claiming Pennington had used the word in the past.
Councilwoman Denise Wood voted for the budget but said she still views it as a “work in progress.”
“Every year with our budget in the last few years, we have actually been below our projected budget,” Wood said. “That is always my goal as an elected official. The budget we will be voting on here ... I still consider it to be a work in progress. There will be opportunities for cuts and savings. We have looked at every way that we could to be as efficient as possible and we will continue to do that."
Dalton's 2017 spending was about $2.8 million under the $32.5 million budget. The final numbers for 2018 aren't in yet.
City resident Cathy Holmes said income data for the area and the City Council’s reluctance to cut spending signal more taxes in the future.
“Even though I know you are not proposing a millage rate increase for this year, you are setting the stage for a millage rate increase,” she said. “And we are already the highest taxed city in northwest Georgia, which you know. When you look at the data … it speaks to the fact that our community, unfortunately, is not as wealthy as it used to be, nor as we would like it to be. We are taxing an ever poorer community. Our taxes are the highest, and again I would like to express my disappointment that you could not find any cost reductions for the 2019 budget.”