City looks to hold the line on 2017 budget

fi Proposed tax levy unchanged, but could increase by $100,000
by Emmitt B. Feldner
of The Review staff

PLYMOUTH – The city is looking to hold the line on the property tax levy, but may opt to increase it by $100,000 for capital projects spending.

City Administrator Brian Yerges presented the proposed 2017 city budget to the City Council Tuesday night.

“There’s no adjustment to the property tax levy, but the Public Works and Utilities Committee has recommended increasing (the levy) by $100,000 for future capital projects,” Yerges told the council.

The $7,243,079 spending plan currently includes a property tax levy of $4,008,042 – the same amount as the previous six annual budgets.

With an increase of just less than half a percent in total property values in the city, that would mean a decrease in the equalized property tax rate of three cents, to $6.60 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

“Our (total) equalized value is at the highest level it’s ever been,” Yerges noted.

City homeowners will see an increase in the garbage and recycling fees on their property tax bills next month.

That’s part of a plan adopted by the council earlier this year to increase both fees over the next decade to bring both up to the full cost of the service for homeowners.

The annual garbage fee will go from $24 to $32.39 and the annual recycling fee will increase to $28.50 from $19.

Yerges presented figures showing that, with the lower tax rate and increased garbage fees, the total tax bill for the owner of a $155,000 home would pay $13.23 more this year on their tax bill, an increase of 1.2 percent.

But that could be increased if the council goes along with the committee recommendation to add more money for big-ticket capital projects.

“The committee looked at the (five-year) capital plan and had a discussion is it better to wait until the absolute last moment to raise the tax levy, or is it better to start thinking about a smaller increase in 2017,” Yerges told the council.

The major projects in the 2017 budget are $404,000 for the Stayer Park/riverfront project and $250,000 for street work on Western Avenue from Factory Street to the city limits.

Yerges noted that the city has been holding to its policy of not bonding for projects in the fiveyear capital plan. That has helped the city reduce its annual debt service payment, he said.

“If we continue to do what we outlined and pay cash for capital projects instead of borrowing, all our debt for the city could be paid off by 2027,” Yerges stated.

The administrator pointed out that there is no increase planned this year in the electric or water rate and a planned step increase in sewer rates of 3.6 percent. That would mean an additional charge of $1.05 per month for the average household, according to Yerges.

The council has scheduled a public hearing on the proposed budget for their next meeting, which will be held Tuesday, Nov. 15 instead of Tuesday, Nov. 8, so as not to conflict with Election Day.

Final action on the 2017 budget is scheduled for that meeting as well.

The council approved an ordinance changing the Parks Commission to the Park Committee.

Yerges explained that, although the group has been listed as a commission in the ordinance, it has acted more as a committee as state law defines it.

“It has primarily been an advisory committee and really hasn’t acted in the way that a full commission would act,” Yerges told the council. “They really haven’t operated as a commission for probably 25 years.”

Under state law, Yerges explained, a Parks Commission oversees all park operations while a Park Committee acts as an advisory group. That, he said, leaves the potential for conflict between management, the commission and the City Council.

Even with the change, Yerges wrote in a memo to the council, “The Parks Committee would still have authority over parks naming, generally user fees for parks, and can make recommendations on a variety of items.”

The makeup of the committee remains the same, with six citizen members serving five-year terms and one City Council member serving a one-year term.

The council also approved an update to the city’s election contingency plan.

City Clerk/Treasurer Patty Huberty said the current plan calls for using the Youth Center as the polling place should City Hall for some reason be unavailable.

However, the Youth Center is not accessible under the Americans with Disabilities Act rules, a requirement for any polling place.

The new plan lists the training room at the Plymouth Utilities Operations Center on County PP as the contingent polling place.

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