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Council OKs budget with 5th straight tax increase

The City Council on Monday approved a $23.3 million budget for the fiscal year beginning April 1 with a fifth straight real property tax increase.

The spending plan, reviewed and revised in work sessions in the past month, calls for a 2.4 percent property tax hike, raising the per $1,000 assessed valuation to $10.73. That will cost the average homeowner about $21 more in the coming year. The original spending plan would have raised the levy 4.3 percent.

The Council also approved new water rates with an increase of 3 percent, revised meter fees and added a capital improvement fee of $50 per quarter. The average homeowner will pay another $13.45 a year for water.

The Council resolution sets $5.7 million as the amount to be raised through local taxes. That's an increase of $134,000. Sales tax revenue has become a major part of municipal income, a projected $5.5 million.

Property taxes have risen each year since 2007, when the city began to cut expenses to emerge from $1 million-a-year operating losses. An annual increase in water rates is due to an aging system that needs more maintenance and replacements.

The Council also ended lengthy negotiations with the Police Benevolent Association after the union twice rejected city offers, and the issue went to arbitration, which was concluded earlier this month.

The pact provides a 2.25 percent retroactive settlement that will cost the city $784,000 and a $1,000 payment in lieu of wage increases for the coming fiscal year. The police union approved the contract about 10 days ago.

The Council also granted a 1.5 percent wage adjustment for non-union and part-time employees effective April 1.

In an ongoing move to improve its fiscal practices, the Council approved a capital reserve fund for parking lots and asphalt sports surfaces; a transfer of $100,000 from the sewer fund for improvements to aging lines with a new cast-in-pipe treatment; and the adoption of fund balance and investment policies.