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Columbus City Council approved a $49.3 million city budget for 2014 with an adopted property tax rate about 5 percent less than last year’s adopted rate. But what that will mean for local taxpayers won’t be clear until early next year.
Mayor Kristen Brown said she was proud of the approved budget and touted that next year’s general fund would not run a deficit and that general fund spending would remain about flat, compared to actual spending this year.
“On the tax side, we did this without the $1.4 million in revenue from the trash fees,” Brown said. “We are looking at a balanced budget.”
The general fund, over which city officials have the most control, increased 2 percent from an adopted $29 million 2013 budget to a $29.6 million budget for next year. The actual spending this year is higher than budgeted, because the city has added several expenditures over the course of this year, including $1.2 million for two new fire trucks and $1 million for repairs to the Hamilton Center Ice Arena roof.
All property-tax-supported funds for next year increased about 4 percent, from $41.2 million to $42.8 million. However, the actual impact of the adopted budget on property taxes won’t be known until early next year, said Jeff Logston, the city’s director of finance and administration.
The property tax rate adopted Tuesday by City Council was less than this year’s adopted tax rate by about 24 cents per $100 of assessed value. However, before the final rate will be determined, the state must first certify the assessed value of property in the county. That new value will be applied to the final tax rates before they are certified early next year. If assessed values come in higher than this year’s, the tax rates would decrease.
Further complicating the process, the city must publicize spending and tax rates even higher than it eventually adopts. That’s because once they are published, the rates can not be increased, Logston said. The city also budgets as if it were anticipating a 10 percent loss in assessed value each year.
Brown and Logston estimated that the final tax rate would be less than a 2 percent increase for taxpayers.
This year’s certified tax rates were about 31 cents less than the rates adopted by City Council during last year’s budget hearings, a 22 percent decrease.
In a protest against the convoluted budget process, City Council member Frank Miller voted against the 2014 budget, which passed 5-1.
Miller said he has been in contact with state legislators about improving the process, but he felt that it was like trying to set a household budget without knowing how much income a family would actually have in the next year.
The entire city budget increased by about 7 percent over 2013’s budget, from $46.2 million this year to $49.3 million. One of the largest increases was in spending for the Columbus Municipal Airport, which added about $619,573 over its 2013 budget. Brown said that increase will include the construction of two new hangers and runway improvements.
The airport will dip into its cash reserves to make those investments, Brown said. The airport is self-funded by rent and fees and does not receive property tax revenues.
About $450,000 of this year’s overall budget increase came from a 2 percent pay raise for city employees. The City Council also approved the 2014 salaries for employees and for elected officials on second and final reading Tuesday.
Council member Frank Jerome called for an almost $2,500 increase to the salary for Clerk-Treasurer Luann Welmer, bringing her total compensation up to $72,000 from $69,508.
“I believe the clerk-
treasurer is a heavy-duty office and that should be compensated at least at the level of other department heads,” Jerome said.
“She has a lot of personal risk in this position, and I think she should be paid accordingly.”
Final approval of the 2014 City Council budget will be scheduled for the Oct. 1 City Council meeting, Logston said.
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