The administration of Jose “Joey” Torres introduced a budget to the city council that would increase property taxes by 5.2-percent.
Total budget appropriation has increased from $246 million in fiscal year 2014 to $252 million in fiscal year 2015. “It’s a 2.3-percent increase from budget year to budget year,” said business administrator Nellie Pou.
The city has to come up with $7.5 million to plug a hole created by three things: debt service payments, reserve for uncollected taxes, and differed charges. $3.4 million in debt service; reserve for uncollected taxes $2.9 million; and the differed charges .88 million, said Pou. She added 98-percent of the budget increase is as a result of these three things.
Pou suggested the administration’s spending increase is slight after the three items are taken into account. Her explanation was not enough to placate council members.
Office of the mayor is seeing an increase of $58,000. The city’s insurance expense item has gone up from $42 million in 2014 to $44 million in 2015.
Workers compensation has also been upped from $4.7 million to 5.3 million. Salaries and wages under Pou’s administration department has increased by $62,000, according to the introduced budget.
Public safety department, which includes police and fire departments, shows an increase of $824,000.
“The number which is being introduced today needs to come down significantly prior to the council considering the budget for adoption,” said Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large.
“I’m deeply concerned about the potential impact on taxpayers,” said Andre Sayegh, 6th Ward councilman. The councilman said the city’s taxpayers are still reeling from the 29-percent tax hike from 2011 and the subsequent increases.
“I would like to see,” said Sayegh, “operating expenditures in every department, across the board, reduced significantly.”
Morris attempted to balance Sayegh’s alarmist tone by adding, “The introduction of the budget has no impact on your taxes whatsoever until we adopt the budget. I don’t want to give folks the impression this is going to impact their taxes.”
In the weeks ahead the city will schedule departmental hearings to come up with a finalized budget. A public hearing on the introduced budget will be held on October 28th, 2014 at 8 p.m.
Morris reiterated that council members voting on the introduced budgets are not giving their approval for a tax hike. “Taxes are impacted after the council adopts a budget [not when it’s introduced],” said Morris.