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City budget: Bigger tax hike likely

City Council may have to adjust the tax millage, cut expenses or a combination tonight, city officials told the Sun-Gazette.

“I would not be surprised if the council adjusted millage and did some additional cuts and adjustments,” said an inside source at City Hall familiar with the finance picture.

A councilman confirmed to the Sun-Gazette that, that would be the plan.

Council reviews a proposed $27.2 million budget, which has been gone over on first reading, and passed with a proposed 0.75-mills property tax increase, or $75 more per year for a tax bill.

The $12,000 left in city hall’s fund reserve, an account used in case of emergencies, is a troubling factor that remains too low for all of those at City Hall.

“It is,” Councilman Randall J. Allison said. “We can look at trying to find additional cuts in expenses,” he said.

“We should be at $500,000,” said William E. Nichols Jr., city finance director and general manager of River Valley Transit.

In terms of staff, the proposed 0.75-mills tax-hike budget eliminates seven positions or does not fill them. Among those are the four in police, two in codes and one in streets and parks.

No layoffs are planned, but fewer employees will start next year, said Mayor Gabriel J. Campana.

Main budget items of contention for Campana include council’s proposal to remove $50,000 a year to provide match for the state Redevelopment Assistant Capital Projects grant targeted for upgrades at Bowman Field.

“We should be borrowing that money, not putting it on the taxpayer,” Campana said.

Another issue that upset Mark Benner, the city engineer in training, was an attempt by some on council to remove about $62,000 from the streets line item.

Benner said that is the amount of his salary.

For council, removing $267,000 was necessary because it was possibly “inflated” income estimates based on a projected 2 percent economic growth.

Councilwoman Bonnie Katz said the city needs to pick up the pace on commercial development if it is to meet the 2 percent economic growth benchmark.

Also on the council agenda is a preview of the Park Avenue Neighborhood Redevelopment plan with consultants.

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