By scraping every spare penny to make ends meet, city leaders are prepared Monday to approve a $170 million spending plan that will hike property taxes a bit less than 4 percent.
But the one mill property tax hike – which will hit even harder because revaluation tilted the tax burden slightly toward homeowners – may look paltry when next year’s budget comes up for approval
Though some officials are ready to postpone purchases of police cruisers, put off buying new public works equipment, skimp on contingency money and a host of other money-saving gimmicks this time around, many of the tricks won’t be available a second time.
That means that when city councilors and Board of Finance members get ready to pass a budget next year, they almost certainly can’t ask police officers to drive aging cars into the ground or delay once again buying other costly equipment that needed replacing this year.
Then, too, the $100 million school budget will, if recent history means anything, rise to about $106 million next year – or an extra mill and a half in property taxes. New growth in town won’t cover anywhere near that much.
City Councilor Frank Nicastro said that additional looming expenses are the two new kindergarten to eighth grade schools that will likely cost at least $115 million – or more, given the soaring price of steel and other products.
To pay for them, said city Comptroller Glenn Klocko, “we would likely double our debt service,” effectively raising the tax rate as much as another half a mill.
Klocko said, however, that given the slow pace of purchasing the necessary property, he figures that the debt for the new schools won’t even hit taxpayers until 2010 or later.
When they are finished, the extra operating costs might add another quarter of a mill to the tax rate annually, Klocko said.
“Education is expensive,” said city Councilor Cliff Block.
Nicastro, who is also a state representative from the 79th District, said that the state isn’t likely to be much help in closing the gap in 2009.
"The governor has made it clear that next year will be worse," Nicastro said.
The prospect of a hefty tax hike next time around isn’t making politicians feel any better, since the mayor and the entire council is up for reelection in 2009. None of them is keen to explain to struggling taxpayers why the city is asking for more.
For now, however, the city has pared the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 about as far as most officials are willing to go.
Still, at least two councilors – Republicans Mike Rimcoski and Ken Cockayne – are pushing to hold the line on any mill rate hike this year. But they haven’t got the votes to do it.
A joint session of the finance board and the council will give final approval to the spending plan at 5 p.m. Monday. The meeting will be held at City Hall.
Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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