Tax hike possible for city residents

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City Council holds 2013-14 budget planning session

By Jesef Williams

Lancaster city officials are looking at raising property taxes while increasing water and sewer rates as part of the 2013-14 budget.
City Council discussed those proposed hikes during a special planning session Tuesday, April 30, at Lancaster City Hall.
Finance Director James Absher led the presentation, which outlined projected revenues and planned expenses for the next fiscal year, as will as information on other proposals such as new staff positions.
City officials propose increasing the millage rate by 5 to 154.7 mills. That will result in a roughly $20 annual tax increase on a $100,000 owner-occupied home.
The increase is projected to add about $150,000 in new revenue.
“We’re not really adding much, if any, to our tax base,” Absher said.
The proposed budget also calls for a $2-per-month rise in the minimum rates for water service. The new minimum rates would be $25.17 for in-city residential customers and $30.74 for residential customers located outside the city limits.
A $2 increase is also budgeted for sewer service. Those new minimum rates would be $14.59 for in-city residential customers and $17.21 for residential customers outside the city limits.
There’s no proposed increase for solid waste fees.
The extra money generated through the increased water and sewer fees would be placed in the city’s reserve fund.
“We have to work on building these reserves back,” Absher said.
When the 2012-13 fiscal year ends, about $1.3 million is projected to remain in reserves. Mayor Joe Shaw expressed his wish for council to be well aware of that number.
“This is a picture we all need to see,” Shaw said.
Overall, the proposed 2013-14 sits at $19.4 million. In budget comparison, the 2012-13 budget was $21.49 million.
Absher points out that the reason the 2012-13 budget is that much greater is due to the one-time capital project expenses such as those made for the Native American Studies Center in downtown Lancaster.
Two new staff positions have been built into the proposed 2013-14 budget – a planner for the finance department and a wastewater utility worker.
Those two positions will add $74,700 to the budget, not including fringe benefits.
No action was taken on the budget at Tuesday’s meeting.
The city’s finance committee since met Thursday to further discuss the budget. Another session with full council will be Thursday, May 9.
First reading of the budget will come during City Council’s May 14 meeting, which begins at 7 p.m.
Another planning session will be held at 6 p.m. June 4. That evening, the public will be able to ask questions and give input on the budget.
Second and final reading will come at 7 p.m. June 11.
The new budget year begins July 1.

Contact reporter Jesef Williams at (803) 283-1152