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City approves proposed budget with .25 mill tax increase

City Council refuted with arguments the mayor’s no-tax-hike budget proposal Thursday night, voted to add a tax increase of .25 mills and passed a proposed budget on first reading for 2020.

“A $28 million no-tax increase budget is not a plan; it is a concept,” Council President Randall J. Allison said, a rebuke to Mayor Gabriel J. Campana, who was in attendance.

Council voted 6-1 to pass the proposed budget which sets the tax rate at 15.72 mills. A final reading will be voted on next week.

Councilman Derek Slaughter, the mayor-elect, voted against the spending plan as proposed.

The amount of tax is equal to $15.72 per $1,000. The annual cost will be $1,572 for those with a house assessed at $100,000, Councilwoman Liz Miele, chairwoman of the finance committee, said.

Had the city increased taxes incrementally by this amount over the past decade, it would have about $4.5 million in the coffers and the tax millage rate would be 14.16 mills, according to William E. Nichols Jr., city finance director.

Allison noted the administration, when there were tax increases, spent that money in order to present

no-tax-increase budgets.

As usual, the driving force behind the increase in taxes was credited to 2.5 to 3.0 percent increases in employee salaries, unstable markets that provide investment strategies for pensions and a 5-percent increase in health care.

Personnel costs are 85 percent of the overall spending plan, according to Nichols.

“You steadily decrease service or steadily increase income,” said Councilman Joel Henderson, listed two ways to avoid tax increases.

In making various changes, council added about $217,000 in overall costs but said that would help to give the incoming administration a better footing to start the new year.

Among the changes were an addition of $75,000 to the planning budget to be used how the mayor chooses, likely earmarked for putting out request for proposals for for economic development consulting services.

Nichols said the city would be at a “great deal of risk” if it did not include funding for consultants.

He said it was at a time when the city is in the midst of several grant applications, is seeking funding for levee recertification and other flood-control measures and hopeful for more money for economic development projects.

Next, council increased health insurance by $9,400 in the mayor’s budget for his new administrative aid.

It increase the equipment budget by $14,000 to purchase tablets for council to more efficiently and accurately retain and access records and documents.

To demonstrate that need, a pile of folders and paperwork were brought by Fausnaught. She said it was only four months worth on the table.

Council voted to increase the police equipment purchase budget of $60,000 by $80,000, bringing it to $140,000, so the police can buy three patrol cars. It also recommended and voted on a truck not to be purchased next year by police.

It moved to the mayor office assignments for decisions on consulting firms.

After the votes, Campana offered no comment on the tax increase.

But in a statement after the meeting, Campana said council has awarded a political operative who raised money for the mayor-elect with an increase of more than $7,900 in salary.

The final adoption of the budget is set for 7:30 p.m. Thursday.

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