A city budget that emphasizes street and sidewalk repair through increased sales and property tax collections took a step toward reality Monday night as council members approved its publication ahead of an August public hearing.
The council decided to push ahead with a budget recommended by City Manager Lori Luther that keeps a steady property tax rate and enacts the three-eighth-cent sales tax for infrastructure that was recently approved by voters.
The vote sets things in motion for an August 21 public hearing that will precede the final approval of a budget for 2024. The council’s various committees had already voted to recommend the budget as presented by Luther.
Sales, property taxes fuel 15% increase in budget
The proposed $430.7 million budget is an increase of 15% over the current year. It calls for a steady property tax mill levy of 14.573 mills, which will result in higher revenue collections since property values are going up significantly this year.
The centerpiece of the budget this year was a proposal by an advisory committee to increase infrastructure spending by $28.5 million per year. About $20.5 million of that would come from the special sales tax, and another $4 million from the increased property tax revenue.
Councilmember criticisms cite personnel costs, property tax rate
Four of the council’s 12 members were uncomfortable with the idea and voted against it. Councilmember Jeff Cox said people have told him they don’t think the city has spent their tax money wisely. He questioned the addition of staff and raises for employees of the city manager’s office.
“We’re increasing spending on humans by 11.3 percent,” he said. “And I just don’t think we can look at our residents and say that’s a sharp pencil. It isn’t a sharp pencil.”
Luther said her staff changes are designed to create a centralized structure that will eliminate duplication of work and inefficiencies as the city’s population and demands grow.
Councilmember Scott Mosher said he trusts Luther to shape the city manager’s office, but was not pleased with a budget that keeps the mill levy steady rather than rolling it back to ease the tax burden on residents.
“We just can’t keep going back to the well,” he said. “We’ve got to give something back.”
Councilmember Faris Farassati noted that the budget does not eliminate chip seal, the road resurfacing method so many of his constituents have been unhappy with. “We have heard clearly from them that they don’t want to be dealing with it in a half century,” he said.
Councilmember Scott Hamblin was dissatisfied with the process that used a citizen advisory committee to study the infrastructure needs. “Everything was taken out of the hands of elected officials and put in the hands of hand-picked groups,” he said, adding that the advisory group did not report its findings directly to the council but to staff.
Mosher, Hamblin, Farassati and Cox voted against the budget agenda item.
Councilmember Jim Kite pointed out the city already has a low mill levy compared to other cities. “I’m always for lowering the mill levy when we can,” but the infrastructure needs to be addressed, he said. “This is the year we boldly set out on a new course and we’re going to need the revenue that came to us through increased valuations as well as the three-eighths cent tax.”