Taxes will rise in city budget

Jun. 13, 2013 @ 09:58 AM

One night after a public hearing on the fiscal year 2014 budget, Henderson’s city council gave approval to increases in property taxes and the sanitation fee.

The council met in a fifth work session Tuesday, approving an increase of 3.5-cents per $100 valuation of property. The city also approved a $2 increase in the sanitation fee.

With their budget work done, a work session for tonight was cancelled. The budget goes for final approval in a regularly scheduled meeting June 24, six days ahead of the state-mandated deadline.

Included in the council’s plan:

• The Downtown Development Commission will be funded with a director and operating budget.

• Recreation department event program funds will be funded.

• The sewer utility charge will increase 1 percent.

• Reductions of $503,300 Ray Griffin, the city manager, offered in his original proposal of $15,731,000.

• A drawdown of $162,000 in the city’s general savings account.

• Hiring a permanent public utilities director will remain on hold and is not included in the budget.

The council first tried to find more cuts in spending rather than the tax and fee increases. They agreed on one line item, a $1,200 cost for lighting a city mural.

Councilman Garry Daeke said that with the public hearing on Monday essentially a call to save the DDC, that funding had to be put back in the budget.

“After hearing the presentation by the DDC folks, I think we need that,” Daeke said.

Councilman Jim Kearney suggested the 3.5-cent tax hike as a middle-road rate to raise most of what was needed not to cut out the DDC.

Council members suggested numerous specific line items for cutting, as small as a $300 yearly stipend to a former member of the council that Councilwoman Sara Coffey said was not given to any other former council members.

“I want this budget to be across the board and fair,” Coffey said.

Councilman Vernon Brown asked about bringing the real estate tax rate down again if revenues run higher than expected and the city has a surplus.

“Nobody wants to raise taxes, nobody,” Brown said. “But, when we’re talking about the DDC, Christmas programs, recreation for youth, we are talking about bringing a little joy for our kids. Our kids. Are you wanting to take that away?”

Council members found they could not find a majority on any major program cut.

“I believe we are at a standstill,” Mayor Pete O’Geary said.

Griffin said tax rates must remain unchanged for the whole fiscal year, but any surplus from revenue is placed in the city’s general savings fund, available for future budgets in which the tax rates can be adjusted again.

Councilman Michael Inscoe repeated his warning on future budgets, adding that Maria Parham Medical Center’s appealing of current real estate assessments in order to lower their tax bill shows the direction of future assessments in the city.

After Tuesday night’s work session, Inscoe said that the council should start work in July on finding areas of consolidation and outsourcing to shrink the city’s government in time for next year.

 

Contact the writer at mfisher@hendersondispatch.com.