The first draft of Mayor David J. Carucci's 2006-07 spending plan carries a tax rate of $149.23 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, a 37.8 percent increase.
Carucci and City Auditor Steve Pachla said the numbers will soon be revised downward, but both expressed a reluctance to use percentages because it is misleading. They said they hope to stick with the numbers to inform the public.
"I plan to get this as low as I can. . . . and I will do anything in my power to cut the numbers," Carucci said after presenting five of the city's seven aldermen with the $14.5 million plan Wednesday night.
Carucci and Pachla said they are not counting on layoffs to save money. They invited aldermen to take part in evening budget talks with department heads, beginning next week, to reduce the anticipated costs.
On Wednesday, the Police Department budget will be discussed, on Feb. 23 the Fire Department and Parks and Recreation will review spending, and on Feb. 24. the Department of Public Works will hold discussions.
Carucci referred to the city's 2005-06 deficit budget, which prompted him to obtain $870,000 from the state as an early sales tax distribution payment to meet January and February payroll. He said the revenues and appropriations shown in his draft are balanced using "factual numbers." He added that they are not dependent on moving money in and out of line items at some future time.
The draft shows a $1.5 million increase in the tax levy, or a 34.7 percent increase. A large share of the spending increase can be found in the Police Department's $2.7 million request, which reflects that department's takeover of dispatch functions.
Another share is found in the Fire Department's $2.6 million budget request, in addition to $394,414 earmarked for spending on buildings, a number that is more than double the $182,555 budgeted in the current year.
Carucci said he hopes to use revenue from water and sewer rate hikes to return $400,000 owed by those funds to the general fund. The plan contains a $10 hike in quarterly water rates and a $13 hike in quarterly sewer rates.
He said he will introduce legislation next week to begin the process of authorizing the rate hikes that should have been initiated in January. Instead of hiking the rates twice they will be sent out in September's bills.
Ward 7 Alderman John Padlo recalled when the city had a surplus but "no one realized the federal government was saying you have to raise your [water and sewer] rates."
But Padlo said that, while he understands the deficit and the need for more revenue, the Council might not easily pass that legislation.
"I don't think water and sewer increases are a done deal yet," he said. Carucci said some future property tax revenues could be generated if a revaluation is conducted for the city's 6,500 parcels, but he added, that will take several years.
Pachla pointed out that many of the city's large industries and businesses have successfully conducted grievances to obtain lowered tax assessments. He predicted that more people will try to go through the process.
"Everything takes time, and it's going to take money," Carucci told the aldermen.