The city wants to collect additional $11 million from property owners to fund next year’s budget, according to a budget document introduced during Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.
The tax levy during the previous fiscal year stood at $139,886,458 — for fiscal year 2014 that number has been increased to $151,034,240.49. The increase of $139.9 million to $151 million means taxpayers have to fill the difference of $11 million.
On average, in order to collect an additional $11 million from property owners, the city must increase taxes by about $459 or 7.97-percent per property, according to the document.
However, due to the property tax cap law a large increase will not be possible, leaving a gap in the budget of $5,067,601.
Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large, suggested the city stop hiring new people when it cannot afford to pay them. “We also saw new positions added to the budget,” said Morris. “You have $90,000 in the one position – it’s a long way off from five million, but it’s a start.”
“I want no one to lose their jobs,” said Morris. “But I see a long list of new hires.”
A 4.43-percent increase results in $255.54 in tax payment per property owner. “That’s the maximum tax increase I can levy against the public for this municipal budget,” said Anthony Zambrano, director of finance. “There is no way we can adopt this budget with this tax levy in it,” owned Zambrano.
Rigo Rodriguez, councilman at-large and mayoral candidate, described the budget as “unacceptable” with a tax increase of $255 per a homeowner. “I’m troubled by this administration when they do not have a handle on the budget,” said Rodriguez.
“Our goal is to reduce this budget significantly,” said Charles Thomas, business administrator. “We certainly understand how hard it is to live check to check.” Rodriguez verbally attacked Thomas for giving himself a salary increase of 4-percent while leaving the tax payers out to dry. “You can’t come here, and tell me I’m going to increase salaries,” said Rodriguez, who said he doesn’t get an increase of that level despite owning his business.
Thomas said he is entitled to an increase as allowed by city ordinance for longevity. “The 4-percent may not happen because it may not get approved,” said Thomas.
Rodriguez called the salary increases “insane” and said he cannot wait until the election next May. Morris picked on the salary increases and said, “Those salaries at prior year levels basically identify 4-percent of saving.”
Andre Sayegh, council president and 6th Ward councilman, echoed the sentiments of Morris saying, “I’m not comfortable with any salary increases that are not contractually obligated.”
Morris wished to slice and dice the budget last night by introducing a motion to amend it; however, that ended in failure when none of the council members voted in favor of changing the numbers in the budget during this early stage. Morris wanted to reduce the tax increase percent down from 4.43-percent to a whole number of 4-percent.
Morris’ intention irked Russell Forenza, the city’s budget officer, who said he did not need a “monkey wrench” tossed into the budget at this point. “We’ve just started the engine to the budget,” said Forenza. “We can amend this budget once and after the budget is introduced.”
Forenza said he needed this budget to get the maximum amount of State aid. The total budget for 2014 stands at $241,655,960. Public hearing on the budget is set for Tuesday, December, 3rd, 2013.