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City Council expects fast, smooth budget talks

City Council members say they expect this year's budget approval process will be the fastest – and smoothest – in recent memory.

What a difference an extra $10.million makes.

Mayor Tom Henry's administration introduced its proposed 2014 civil city budget Tuesday, a $147.million spending plan officials say is not only balanced, but if you take out the new spending on roads, parks and other infrastructure, the operating budget is essentially the same as this year's.

"We were very clear going in that any money being raised was for infrastructure or public safety classes, it wasn't for operations," City Controller Pat Roller told council members.

Councilman Tom Smith, R-1st, who chairs the Finance Committee, said his review of the budget so far shows it will be difficult to find any places to cut.

"It's going to be hard to round up the usual suspects," Smith said.

Normally, the council adds special sessions on Thursday evenings at least twice in October to deal with the budget review. This year, no Thursday sessions are planned, and only two Tuesday review sessions are scheduled.

Officials expect to review selected departmental budgets Oct. 1 and Oct. 8. They plan to debate cuts on Oct. 15 and will take a final vote on Oct. 22.

The process is expected to be easier not just because of the extra money, but because much of the heavy lifting was done earlier this summer when the council spent four months working through property tax increases, new local income taxes, a new City Utilities fee, and $5.million in spending cuts. All those moves largely locked in what the 2014 budget would be.

The proposed budget calls for $101.million in property tax revenue, up from the $91.million collected this year, thanks to taking the maximum increase allowed by the state, plus the increases allowed in past years but not taken. There is also a new property tax, called the Cumulative Capital Development Fund.

Officials estimate that because of constitutional tax caps, the property tax increases will have little effect on taxpayers' bills. Instead, much of the new property tax revenue will come from other governments getting a smaller share. The city estimates that people who own $100,000 homes should see their property tax bills increase only about $12 a year. Because of property tax caps, the owners of $150,000 houses will see their bills go up about $2 a year; the owner of a $50,000 house will see about a $4-a-year increase, officials said.

Tax payers under the cap – basically those in the city limits with homes valued less than $100,000 – will have their bills held in check thanks to the income tax increase approved in June. That move raised the local option income tax from 1.percent to 1.35.percent, designating 0.25.percent for property tax relief that will add a new credit to every property owner's bill, and 0.10.percent to public safety, sending new revenue to every taxing body in the county that provides police or fire services, including the city, county and several towns.

The public safety portion of the income tax hike will bring in about $4.7.million for the city to hire new firefighters and police officers.