City of Decatur eyes tax cut

By Roy J. Eaton | Published Saturday, August 4, 2018
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Decatur taxpayers who have seen their property values soar will get some relief if the Decatur City Council approves a proposed 3.6-cent tax cut to fund next year’s $8.7289 million budget.

Finance Director Mike Erwin said increased property values have made the cut possible. The city expects $8.745 million in revenue – $580,759 more than last year.

“As always, we try to have a balanced budget, and the good news this year is we are going to be able to lower the tax rate,” Erwin told the city council Monday in a budget study session.

The council set public hearings on the tax rate for Aug. 13 and 27, and for the budget Aug. 27.

The budget includes a 2 percent pay increase for city employees and an additional deputy chief for the fire department, a warrant officer for the police department and an additional employee for the conference center.

Erwin said Police Chief Rex Hoskins estimated the warrant officer should bring in enough money to pay his salary. The additional employee at the conference center should allow center director Lori Sherwood to concentrate on sales.

Fire Chief Mike Richardson said the additional deputy chief would be over operations and training. Deputy Chief Deroy Bennett, who also serves as fire marshal, will be over prevention.

“We will try to fill that position internally,” Richardson said.

The budget proposes a series of water and sewer rate increases, including a $3.29 per month residential increase from $21.93 to $25.22 per month.

“That should cost the homeowner about $40 per year more,” Erwin said.

Commercial customers will have new rates ranging from $31.08 to $195.55 per month, depending on the size of water meters at the business.

The city also sells bulk water at city hall and Erwin has proposed a boost from $7 per 1,000 gallons to $15.

“We are leaving the rate at $7 for those who use meters at fire plugs,” Erwin said.

New eight-inch water lines on the north and south sides of the courthouse square are planned to improve fire protection in the area. That $140,000 project is partially funded in the current budget.

The police department will receive six new vehicles to replace older units.

The public works department will receive a new $35,000 brush chipper and an $80,000 camera system to inspect underground water and sewer lines. The chipper is being paid for by the $2.50 per month fee added to water bills for brush pickup.

The budget includes $45,000 to continue work on updating the city’s comprehensive plan system. Planning Director Dedra Ragland said it would be at least two years before than planning work is complete. The budget provides funds for several upgrades to the city’s planning and budgeting software.

“Our goal is to make it easier to use for department heads,” Erwin said.

The proposed 66.7 tax rate is a 7.89 percent increase in taxes, just below the state mandated roll back tax rate of 8 percent. Each penny in the tax rate will bring in about $72,000 in revenue.

“The tax rate is similar to where we were in 2013,” Erwin said. “When you have a year of growth like this, the rate needs to come down.”

He said the city revenue stream needs to be 65 to 70 percent property. With sales taxes, he added that we are right where we need to be.

“This is a budget we can sustain in the future. It’s important to have a budget we can live with for the next two to three years,” Erwin told the council.

The city plans no additional debt issuance in 2018 and has two more annual payments on the bond issue to build the conference center.

Erwin said there had been discussions about a new bond program when the conference center debt is cleared. Items being considered in a future bond program include expansion of the conference center, a 1-million gallon water storage tank, purchase of an aerial ladder truck for the fire department and completion of the third floor in the police administration building.

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