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City council approves tax increase on first reading of budget

City Council late Thursday passed a tax hike on first reading of the 2019 $27 million proposed budget.

Council passed a 0.75 mills increase, or what would be $1,547 for a tax bill on a property assessed at $100,000.

“It’s $75 more per year,” said William E. Nichols Jr., city finance director.

It was close to midnight when council increased tax by $87,519.

Council president Jonathan Williamson said he wrestled with providing relief for taxpayers and cutting their services.

He even recommended trimming the streets and parks department by $62,000, but that was defeated.

“I started the process in this with the goal to reduce the proposed tax increase,” Williamson said.

“I wanted to find ways to save money to reduce but also came at it trying to find the right balance between painful cuts and services to citizens and painful increases in their taxes. These are competing but both important priorities and it is still not enough,” Williamson said.

Councilman Derek Slaughter voted no to the millage increase. Slaughter said he doesn’t think the budget figures presented add up but that caused him to tangle with Nichols and Mayor Gabriel J. Campana.

The proposed budget calls for reduction of police by four, two in codes and elimination of a position in streets and parks department. There are no layoffs because the reductions are through attrition, Campana said.

The fund balance, or savings account to be used in case of emergencies, is lower than desired by council and the administration.

“I don’t see a way for us to make a positive fund balance increasing the tax rate over and above what has been proposed in the budget,” said Councilwoman Liz Miele.

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