No tax increase on city budget this year

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

By Karen Hall


After a two-hour work session Monday, councilmen were able to instruct Treasurer Donna Park to prepare a budget without a property tax increase.

A public hearing on this budget will start at 5:30 p.m. today at Lewisburg City Hall, to be followed by the second of three votes by councilmen on the budget.

The budget, as approved tonight, will be published in the Tribune, and citizens have 10 days to study it before the final vote on the 28th.

"We've gained a lot of knowledge about our budget in the last few weeks," said Mayor Jim Bingham. "I think that's a good thing. It's not necessarily an easy thing to grasp."

He noted at the last meeting all councilmen were committed to having an outdoor pool at the Rec Center by next summer, fixing the foundation problems at the Rec Center, and paving the town's streets which are in the worst condition.

Called upon one by one, councilmen repeated these commitments, and were also in favor of giving the employees a raise.

"I think our employees deserve a raise, if we have the money," said Councilman Odie Whitehead Jr.

Councilman Trigg Cathey reminded the council they had paid $1,000 to option land for a new fire hall, and should probably pay $34,000 to complete the deal for the land.

"That is an excellent piece of property," said City Manager Randall Dunn. "That's the best location available."

Councilmen then discussed some of the costs associated with their priorities.

"I'm saying $1 or $1.2 million would do everything we need to do out there," summarized Dunn.

"That's the kind of thing you borrow money for," said Councilman Steve Thomas.

"We can borrow, to take out of reserves," said Bingham, adding, "The time has come for a moderate tax increase. Eight cents is what I consider reasonable and moderate. I could stand and defend that."

Councilman Robin Minor was not in favor of any tax increase, while Whitehead suggested four cents, but even an eight-cent increase in property tax does not bring in nearly enough for the work on the pool and the Rec Center.

A 2 percent raise for city employees can be included in the current budget, and still keep the city "in the black," so this is what will be seen when the budget is presented tonight.

A plan to borrow $500,000 and take $500,000 out of reserves in order to fund the work at the Rec Center, including the pool, won general approval from councilmen, with Minor and Whitehead compromising their firmly held belief that it's bad to borrow money. Debt service is currently 2.5 percent of the budget, one of the lowest in the state, Park confirmed.

Dunn reminded councilmen they need to have a figure in mind below which they will not allow their reserves to fall.

"You need some flexibility throughout the year," he said. "There will be grants to apply for, equipment to replace, and so on. You don't want to compromise our ability to apply for grants."

At the end of the two-hour session, councilmen were satisfied with their work.

"We're over the worst part," said Bingham. "We're going into our 30th year without a tax-rate increase."