Council starts slashing increases

May. 25, 2013 @ 04:25 PM

Henderson city council members weighed in for the first time on budget details Thursday, eliminating a 5-percent increase in the regional water billing.

They’ll gather again Tuesday night at 6 in the council chambers of City Hall for their second work session on the new budget. They received it last week, and with it came a property tax increase of more than 8 cents.

On the table Thursday were details of the regional water, city water and sewer department budgets and reasons why rates are requested by the departments to increase 5 percent, 8 percent and 2.5 percent, respectively.

City Manager Ray Griffin said there is some good news for Henderson’s utility finances this year. Funding for debt services is coming down.

He said the rate increase requests were not made on account of debt expenses that have been a heavier burden on past budgets.

Councilman Michael Inscoe led fellow council members on a page-by-page review of expenditures, removing a capital construction project and making further regional water fund changes to eliminate the $195,000 forcing the 5-percent rate increase.

The regional water system charges its municipal customers, including the City of Henderson’s water department, so eliminating that rate increase automatically applies to the city water’s 8 percent rate increase recommendation, lowering it to 3 percent.

The discussion Tuesday will begin with the city water department’s budget, and because council members agreed to stay longer at the work sessions in order to finish their work early, they could potentially discuss the sewer department budget and the city’s general fund budget as well.

Inscoe said city departments simply must not assume that customers and Henderson city residents easily have the ability to pay more on their fees, bills and taxes.

“Even though the city government is hurting, the citizens of this city are hurting, too,” Inscoe said. “I find it to be my responsibility to save money for the citizens of this city wherever I can.”

Inscoe went into line-item specifics, including a $32,000 request for a new truck that he said he priced at local dealerships at $18,000.

Staff members of the Kerr-Tar Regional Water Authority clarified that they wanted a four-door cab truck in order to carry four crew members on occasion.

Inscoe said he still believed $32,000 to still be excessive for that request.

A bulk capital project item Inscoe found agreement on from fellow council members was the work to repair a roof for one of the buildings at the regional water facility. They placed that capital project onto the overall water facility upgrade project slated to begin in 2016.

There are scheduled council budget work sessions taking place Tuesday and Thursday nights, then on June 3 and 4 if needed. A June 10 public hearing is also scheduled for input by the public.

The city’s general fund budget includes a 14.2 percent real estate tax hike, adding 8.3 cents to the 58.5-cent rate on assessed values. Also operating as a tax funding general projects is the city’s trash collection fee that is slated for a 50-cent increase.

Every penny of the real estate tax rate translates to $89,000. In order to turn back the entire tax hike proposal, $738,700 will need to be taken out of the proposed $35,751,900 city budget.

“There is an official public hearing where people are invited to speak for the record,” Griffin said, adding that people are also welcome to sit in on budget work sessions, each slated to start at 6 p.m. on the dates they are scheduled.

Contact the writer at mfisher@hendersondispatch.com.