City's budget passage derailed

Jun. 24, 2013 @ 08:16 PM

Two weeks since last meeting on the fiscal year budget, the Henderson City Council has abandoned the agreement it forged.

At a final public hearing on June 10, none of the speakers mentioned the planned raise in property taxes. A fifth budget work session was held the following night, on June 11, and Monday’s meeting was established as the time to vote for formal approval.

But councilwoman Sara Coffey brought that to a halt. She questioned a recreation department item and went so far as to speak for other council members in saying she didn’t believe they were ready to vote for the budget.

The meeting on the budget was recessed until tonight at 6.

Councilman James Kearney said he thought it was dangerous to cast off the consensus that the council had achieved on the budget before Monday.

“What we have now seems to be rather balanced,” Kearney said. “Any drastic change would step on more toes, and it is too late to hold another public hearing.”

Mayor Pete O’Geary asked if there was a consensus to pass the budget.

“I am not ready to vote for it the way it is, and I don’t believe some others are ready,” Coffey said.

And so the budget is on hold, with less than a week before passage is required by state law.

O’Geary told council members to be prepared with specific cuts to the budget that could be presented for possible agreement on implementation.

Coffey told the council and audience she was not satisfied with the tax increases that became a part of the final budget proposal. In their final budget work session June 11, council members had agreed to an increase of 3.5 cents per $100 property valuation in addition to other fee increases.

Coffey’s comments followed agenda item statements made by Debbie Perkinson and Allen Simmons.

Perkinson, a life-long resident, said she knows of taxpayers leaving because of crime and education problems worsening as tax bills go up.

“We do not need to raise taxes on people who are paying too much on taxes already,” Perkinson said. “If we cannot afford it, then maybe it should be cut.”

Simmons, a detective with the Henderson Police Department, identified himself only as a resident and not as an employee of the city. He said his priority is focused on recreation for youth, whom will be the ones missing out the most if they are scaled back.

“We don’t want to fail them in that way,” Simmons said. “Sports is what led me out of the trouble I was in.”

Coffey said she could not support $20,000 for the recreation department to send 12 youth and their families on a weeklong trip to a postseason baseball tournament.

“That does not help all of our kids,” Coffey said. “Parents should come up with that money, and businesses can help.”

She said she could not support the tax hike.

Councilman Garry Daeke said he could support an adjustment to lessen the burden on property taxpayers by further hiking the trash collection fee as well as cutting items such as the recreation fund for a baseball postseason trip.

“That kind of combination would work for me,” Daeke said.

Kearney said he would not support a complete elimination of a property tax hike.

O’Geary warned council members of the time frame.

“We have had enough meetings on this budget, and we need to cut it out,” O’Geary said.

Contact the writer at mfisher@hendersondispatch.com.