The City Council agreed Thursday to add a half cent to the property-tax rate for park maintenance, but remained undecided about how to pay for garbage collection.
Only four of the seven council members attended Thursday’s budget meeting, and those present left three options to be considered when the budget comes up for a vote June 16:
“This is just miniscule,” said Mayor Pro-Tem Cora Cole-McFadden. “I know we have to raise taxes but we don’t have to raise them for that.”
City Manager Tom Bonfield has proposed a $376.5 million budget for the coming fiscal year. A projected $140,305,673, or 37 percent, of the revenue comes from property taxes.
The $1.80 monthly garbage fee has been a point of council and public contention since it was proposed and adopted last year. Supporters say a fee is more fair than a tax because it is only charged to those whose garbage is collected by the city. The city does not collect solid waste from businesses, including most apartment complexes.
Opponents say it is regressive, putting an undue burden on the poor who pay the same amount as affluent solid-waste customers. Cole-McFadden, though, argued that paying $1.80 a month is easier on low-income people than coming up with money to pay an extra tax at the end of the year.
“Psychologically, it’s not good to have to deal with a higher tax,” she said. “I understand the thinking of people who are less well off than those of us around the table are.”
Council members Diane Catotti and Steve Schewel , who oppose the fee, were not at the budget meeting, but Mayor Bill Bell said Catotti’s earlier suggestion of a phased transition should be left among the options when the full council votes.
“I wanted to at least have those options for the council to see,” Bell said.
Councilman Eddie Davis said he would not support the phase-in, describing it as a “split the baby in half” solution that would only create “a more politicized issue.”
Bonfield’s proposed budget already included a 1.29-cent increase in the property-tax rate, to cover debt service on voter-approved bonds and salaries for police officers and firefighters previously paid with federal stimulus grants.
With the 0.5-cent increase for parks, the city’s property-tax rate goes from the current 56.75 cents per $100 of assessed property value to 58.54 cents. That would add $35.80 to the bill for a house and lot valued at $200,000.
Replacing the $1.80 monthly solid-waste fee would require another 0.579-cent rise in the tax rate, according to the city budget office.
The half-cent parks tax is expected to bring in $1.2 million in its first year, providing enough for the parks and general-services departments to hire six new employees each, with full-time assignments for inspecting, repairing, cleaning, neatening and landscaping the city’s parks and greenways.
On other budget questions, the council decided to: