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Levy rising, tax rate falling in budget

Except for a few fine points, the 2012 city budget appears to be done, carrying a tax levy increase of 10 percent despite a tax rate decrease of 2.55 percent.

At the Common Council's second public hearing on the $23.3 million spending plan Wednesday, Mayor Michael W. Tucker said the Council will reconvene at 5 p.m. Tuesday for a final budget review.

The Council is to vote on the spending plan at 6 p.m. the next day, after a public hearing on a proposed law to override the state property tax cap.

The 2 percent cap applies not to the tax rate, but to the levy, which is the total amount to be collected in property taxes.

Spending in the budget is rising by 9 percent, or almost $2 million.

There are no layoffs, and one new job, a $36,699-a-year housing inspector, is being created.

City Clerk and Budget Director Richard P. Mullaney said the budget is balanced with one-shot moves and heavy use of reserve funds.

"We're taking back the pop bottles. We're breaking open the piggy bank. We're using every dollar we can to lower the tax rate," he said at the hearing.

As of Wednesday, the proposed tax rate stood at $14.86 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, a drop of 39 cents from this year.

But whether that brings a lower tax bill depends on what happened to each individual's property during this year's citywide reassessment.

Tucker said the Board of Estimate and Apportionment, a committee of top city officials that controls revenue estimates, had agreed to add $100,000 to the expected take from ambulance fees.

That lowered the tax rate and the levy by almost a full percentage point.

Tucker said he expects that once the Council determines exactly what the new fees will be, the city will realize more than $100,000, but he wanted to take a "conservative" approach.

Fire Chief Thomas J. Passuite proposed a $300,000 boost in ambulance revenue, or more than 50 percent.

The 2011 budget projected ambulance income of $575,000. As of the end of September, $400,000 had been collected, which was down $34,000 from the same period in 2010, City Auditor Ruth E. Ohol said.

Alderman Joseph C. Kibler, R-at large, reported that half of the ambulance billings are covered by Medicaid, Medicare or private insurance.

Tucker said, "The ones who are really stuck [with a fee hike] are the ones that don't have any insurance. History tells you those people don't pay."

Currently, the city's ambulance fees are $400 for basic life support; $600 for advanced life support; $160 for a treat-and-release call; and $210 for a "dead on arrival" transport.

Those fees are well below those of Rural/Metro or Twin City ambulances, Passuite reported.

Norman D. Allen, director of engineering and public works, had asked for a $100,000-a-year salary because of his expanded responsibilities since he took over streets and parks earlier this year.

But the Council gave Allen the same 3 percent raise that most other department heads were to receive, moving his pay to OVER 27 LNs$81,244,from $78,878. Allen said he was dissatisfied.

The Council hasn't decided on City Treasurer Michael E. White's request for an extra $12,000 to succeed the retiring Mullaney as budget director.

As of Wednesday, the $12,000 was still in the budget, but White's requested $8,262 stipend for Deputy Treasurer Steven A. Goerss to act as deputy budget director had been cut out.

Mullaney said Police Chief Lawrence M. Eggert's salary next year will be $97,655, an increase from $88,630 triggered by a state rule that keeps a chief's base pay ahead of his captains' salaries.

"He said if everyone's taking a [pay] freeze he'll take one, but nobody's taking a freeze," Mullaney said.