2012-04-19 / Front Page

Property tax could increase 12 cents

Bruce Keiser says reforms by state legislators will keep benefit costs at same level
BY PHIL ZAHODIAKIN

The Town Council last week tweaked the budget that Jamestown voters will be asked to approve at the Financial Town Meeting. The spending proposal, which is slated for council adoption on April 23, includes the School Department’s spending request, which won’t require any increase in taxpayer support.

That’s not to say taxes aren’t going up. But, given the modesty of the spending increase proposed for the town side, Jamestown’s property-tax rate won’t be signifi- cantly higher during the next fiscal year.

The council also addressed a couple of pavilion issues and a proposal for the town to manage $1.3 million worth of affordable housing loans and grants.

The council’s brief meeting and the ensuing budget work session were held on April 12. The FTM will be held on June 4, when voters will be asked to approve a combined spending proposal totaling $21,583,965.

The spending increase represented by the budget proposal for fiscal year 2012-13 is $392,120 – or 1.82 percent. On the town side, the lion’s share of the increase comes from a jump in the amount of debt that has to be serviced. Spending on the school side will increase by $101,034. However, the schools won’t ask the town for a funding increase because the School Department expects state and federal assistance to cover its additional spending.

Back on the town side, the capital spending proposal reflects a spending increase of $40,500. To fund that increase, the propertytax rate will have to increase by about 2 cents. However, to fund the increased debt service, property taxes will have to rise by an additional 10 cents.

All told, the roughly 12-cent increase will raise the $9.21 property tax rate to between $9.33 to $9.35 per $1,000 of assessed value. Town Finance Director Tina Collins told the Press that the exact amount of the property-tax increase won’t be known until the tax roll – meaning the amount of expected property-tax revenue – is certified by the tax assessor.

Of all the requests to increase capital spending, the largest came from Town Planner Lisa Bryer who had proposed to add $50,000 to the town’s annual $50,000 allocation for affordable housing support. But Councilor Bob Bowen said the request “was a little bit much for us to do” this time around, adding that he would like to spend the money – preferably from the town’s technology fund – on a contractor to reconstruct the town website. Bryer’s housing request was declined.

The council agreed, however, to spend $20,000 to weatherproof the former highway barn at Fort Wetherill. Built in 1940 to store Navy mines, the structure is still used as a warehouse for some town equipment. The weatherproofing, which will all be performed by the Public Works Department, will involve patching the roof and replacing the windows with plexiglass.

The other expenditures accounting for the $40,500 increase in capital spending is $17,000 for retrofitting both the front and back Town Hall doors with electric motors to ease handicapped access, and $3,500 for repainting the library’s soffit. Town Administrator Bruce Keiser has recommended sourcing the requested $3,500 from the library’s maintenance account. In that case, the account, which stands at $18,000, would be increased by $3,500.

If the account is increased to accommodate the paint job, it would be the only increase to the town’s operating budget, which is a key reason that the tax increase during the next fiscal year will be modest.

Keiser told the Press, “We were fortunate with respect to the operating budget. We won’t have any increases in health insurance costs, and reforms enacted by the General Assembly enabled us to maintain employee benefit costs at the same level they were. In previous budget years, employee health care costs and pension have been major drivers for property-tax increases but, this year, we have those expenditures under control.”

During the brief council meeting before the budget work session, Bryer withdrew her proposal for the town to manage $1.3 million in affordable housing loans and grants because, she said, “It wouldn’t be in the best interests of the town.”

But the council signed off on the proposed priority list of 11 projects for which the town is seeking Community Development Block Grants. The largest of the grant requests is a $200,000 request for Bridges Inc. to acquire the 2 Hammett Court property for redevelopment as affordable housing units.

The council also decided on “medium bronze” as the final color for the metal roof on the new pavilion at Fort Getty. It was previously scheduled to be “patina green.” They also agreed to a $22,000 contract for the purchase and installation of wind curtains, which resemble clear shower curtains. During the meeting, Gray unrolled one of the curtains for the council to look at. He told the Press that the curtains will be attached to each other as well as the pavilion posts, which means they aren’t likely to flail around in strong wind.

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