Archive for Wednesday, July 18, 2007

City trims proposed tax increase

July 18, 2007

Thanks to a revolving loan available from the state and belt-tightening in each of the city's departments, property tax increases won't be as steep as city officials originally expected.

Instead of raising the levy by 2.07 mills, the proposed 2008 city budget would raise the levy by about 1 mill to accomplish the capital improvement goals city officials had originally planned.

"I hate raising the mill levy, but if you want those types of things, you're going to have to pay for them; it's just a fact of life," Tonganoxie Mayor Mike Vestal said at the July 10 budget work session. "Things are expensive."

The result of the work session is a proposed 2008 city budget with a property tax levy of 33.7 mills. That's up about 1.05 mills from a year ago.

A mill is $1 in taxes for every $1,000 in assessed property valuation. The owner of a $150,000 home would pay about $581 in property taxes to support the city budget if it is adopted as proposed, or about $18 more than a year ago.

The original budget plan with the 2-mill increase included: plans for widening Pleasant Street, $800,000; the initial cost to begin replacing the Pleasant Street bridge, $35,660; improvements on the Pleasant Street bridge between First and Second streets $122,000; a skate park, $100,000; improvements on Fourth Street from the bridge to South Park, $54,000; and curb and guttering along Second Street from Evans Street to U.S. Highway 24-40, $625,000.

The new lowered mill budget will include all of these projects, but will move the $800,000 needed from Pleasant Street to the revolving loan, which the city will need to start paying back in 2009.

A discussion arose about spending on Second Street, which is a less traveled road, versus spending to get East Street ready for when the Pleasant Street bridge is replaced in 2010.

Council member Tom Putthoff said the Second Street project, which was on the city's five-year plan when Vestal was on the council in the early 1990s, has been pushed back year after year, only driving the cost up.

"You come back to the people who live over there and it's the same old story. They see it on the budget they see it in the paper and then it gets deleted and they say, 'I pay taxes why can't I get my street done?'" he said.

Some of the unknowns remain in projects included in the budget: the skate park and Fourth Street improvements.

The council agreed there was enough interest from the community to build a skate park, but the big question that remains is where to put it and who would be in charge of finding an appropriate site.

Council member Jason Ward said he wanted to budget money for the skate park, but if no site could be found the city might use the money for other things.

"Based upon the year we had this year, it's likely we could find a need for that money," Ward said.

Another unknown is whether the city will be able to acquire the proper easements for Fourth Street's phase III or if the utility companies will be able to move their lines to the south side of the street.

Rodgers said that while the amount of money needed for the projects looked high, city engineers never underestimate costs and the projects might be cheaper.

"You don't want to bank on this, but keep in mind that I think some of the projects are going to be less than what you see," said Butch Rodgers, city superintendent.

Rodgers gave as an example the estimated $235,000 cost on milling and overlaying streets in March. To date, the city has only spent about $135,000.

The council will now conduct a public hearing for the 2008 budget on Aug. 13 before sending the final budget to the county by Aug. 24.

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