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Mayor praises budget approval

Mayor Linda Witte said Wednesday that the approval of a new city budget clears a path for the city's future.

The 2011-12 spending plan was approved Tuesday in a 4-2 vote of the Council.

"The 19-cent per 1,000 of assessment in the property tax rate, an increase of 1.35 percent, is the lowest general fund tax increase in a decade," Witte said.

This translates to a tax rate of $14.63 per $1,000 of assessed value, for an increase of about $12 in the bill of an average homeowner, she said. Water and sewage rates remain unchanged.

Witte praised the four aldermen who met with department heads and made the hard decisions in a cooperative way, resulting in the earliest budget passage in recent memory -- and two weeks before the deadline.

The general fund totals $16.1 million, up by $88,153 from the current budget. Following recent recommendations from the State Comptroller's Office review team, the plan includes an adjustment required for proper debt service accounting and includes an increase to restore health to the contingency fund, which had been depleted when the budget deficit neared $4 million leading up to 2006, Witte said.

Also, the contingency fund of $765,000 provides a "cushion" for emergencies. According to City Auditor Fred Saradin, that amount is 4.75 percent of the general fund, nearing the recommended 5 percent.

Witte said that after meeting with state officials and following their suggestions, "We knew we did not want to go below a 1 percent tax increase. We need to plan for the unforeseen costs that could be coming down from Albany in the form of a tax shift to local governments."

Witte pointed out the budget includes no layoffs or increases to the city's full-time staff.

She added the real problem is a continuing drop in the assessed value of all taxable properties.

"Let's find a way to reverse that trend, attract some new commerce that fits with our community's character and begin to set some new targets for growth," Witte said.

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