Even with levy increase, budget still good news

IT COULD HAVE GONE either way – and nearly did. The Plymouth City Council adopted the 2017 city budget at their last meeting by a margin of just one vote.

That narrow margin was the result of a successful proposal from the council’s Public Works and Utilities Committee to add $100,000 to the property tax level in order to build up the city’s reserves for big-ticket capital improvement projects.

The result was that a five-year streak of not raising the property tax levy was broken. That is an enviable streak and one that would have reached six years had the council not gone along with the recommendation from Public Works and Utilities.

Even without that addition to the levy, city homeowners would have seen a small increase in their total property tax bill as a result of previously approved increases in the garbage collection and recycling fees.

City Administrator Brian Yerges said that impact would have been $13.23 for the owner of a home assessed at $155,000, while the addition to the property tax levy that was approved bumped that impact up to $38.77.

The reason the Public Works and Utilities Committee recommended bumping up the levy was some big cost items sitting several years out in the city’s long-range capital improvements project plan.

The biggest of those is the planned replacement in 2022 will be the replacement of the Fire Department’s aerial truck, projected to cost $1.1 million.

That puts the total for the planned projects that year at $2.2 million. By comparison, the city is funding just over $1 million worth of capital projects in the coming year.

Proponents of holding the line on the levy contended that the city could make sure it puts away enough reserves to cover that jump when it comes in five years.

Indeed, the projections of capital items costs the five years from 2018 to 2022 averages just over $1.3 million a year – with lows of $747,326 projected in 2018 and $901,665 in 2020.

It is quite conceivable that the city could have found a way to take advantage of those lower-spending years to put away enough excess to weather the big hit down the road.

But it’s also not the worst idea to start adding to those reserves now – and in the intervening years – by bumping up the tax levy by less than the allowable increase available to the city under the state’s mandated revenue caps.

The bottom line is that the city’s wise fiscal management and budgeting over the past half a decade, spearheaded by Yerges’ leadership and brought to fruition by a dedicated city management team, has put the city in a strong enough position to make that kind of decision.

It was not too long ago in the past that city officials were utilizing the specious tool of borrowing money to balance the city budget by using those funds for items that should have been – and now are – part of the city’s regular budget.

Those practices now enable the city to utilize borrowing only for long-term, big-ticket items when needed – and to reduce the reliance on borrowing and the city’s debt service considerably.

That kind of fiscal prudence and wise management is something everyone can agree on – and benefit from.

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