Salem proposed budget includes large tax increase
By BROOKS TAYLOR
Mt. Pleasant News
SALEM — Not so fast.
Salem City Council’s attempt to adopt the fiscal 2013-14 city budget during its regular meeting last night was halted because the council did not follow the legal procedures in publicizing a hearing on the budget.
State law requires that the notice of a public hearing must be posted and published in the city’s official newspaper at least 10 days prior to the hearing. Although Salem City Clerk Brenda Carver contended she posted the public hearing of the budget (which she said was hosted during a council work session), the public hearing date and budget estimate never was published in the Mt. Pleasant News, which is the official newspaper for the City of Salem.
Consequently, the council could not adopt the budget and set the public hearing for Monday, April 15, at 7 p.m. in the community center.
Salem property owners could see an 18 percent or $2 per $1,000 taxable valuation increase in the city tax levy. The levy in fiscal 2012-13 was $11.15362 and the proposed tax levy in fiscal 2013-14 is $13.206 per $1,000 taxable valuation. In pocketbook terms that means a house with a taxable valuation of $50,000 (assessed valuation minus the residential tax rollback) will pay over $100 more in property tax. This year’s rollback is around 52 percent, meaning residential property is taxed at 52 percent of its assessed valuation.
Despite the property tax levy increase, city expenditures are projected to decrease from $273,280 to $137,995. Revenue, meanwhile, is listed at $133,223 compared with $336,788. The city will transfer $5,772 from its fund balance to balance the budget.
The budget has a beginning fund balance on July 1, 2013 of $343,330 and an ending fund balance of $337,558 on June 30, 2014.
One of the noticeable expenditure increases is for public safety. The bulk of that account, which is set to rise from $25,380 to $43,440, is for the fire department. Carver explained that the fire department wants to purchase some equipment and also build a reserve.
Councilman Chuck Kramer said the increase is too much. “I think that is a large jump. An increase of $18,000 is quite large to me.”
Kramer also said the public was not properly informed about the budget hearing. “I thought the work session was for people to make (budget) requests. I didn’t know you were drawing up the budget.”
Carver said the budget does not include funds for the sidewalk project. Council members have been discussing completing replacement of the sidewalk around the square (the west side was replaced last year) for over a year, and the matter has appeared on council agendas for at least six months but is tabled each month. Carver did say if the council wants to do the project, the budget will have to be amended.
She did not offer much other information on the budget. “The property tax levy increased because of the (residential property) rollback and our IPERS increase because of more payroll.”
After hearing a presentation by Carver and Dave Helman, the council voted to proceed with applying for an owner-occupied housing rehabilitation program through the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA). The program provides financial assistance as a five-year forgivable loan for 100 percent of home remodeling costs up to $24,999 of each housing unit. The program also includes a forgivable loan of up to $7,000 for energy-efficient appliances.
Participants will not have to make any repayments of the forgivable loan unless the home does not remain as their principal residence for the entire five-year term. If the property owner moves or sells the property, he/she must pay back the remaining amount of the loan.
Carver said the city needs six to eight qualifiers for the program, which would begin in February 2014. Applicants must meet certain income criteria. For example a household with one person cannot earn more than $33,500 annually. A two-member household cannot have annual income of over $38,300.
“I think we need to learn more about it and I will help Brenda with the program and grant,” Helman said. “We should do anything we can to help people improve their property. I think many people would like to do it but don’t have the money to do it.”
In other matters, Salem resident Alan Wagner asked the council why there is such a delay in depositing payment checks. “Why is it taking six weeks for checks to clear?” Wagner asked. “You also say you are hurting for money so why is this so screwed up? It sounds like somebody isn’t doing their job.”
Carver said checks are deposited in batches of 25 beginning in the middle of the month and there is no delay in depositing payments. Resident Jeannine Eltrich agreed. “My check never takes 30 days, it is processed rapidly.”
Wagner disagreed saying he did not pay his water bill the entire winter and was never sent a shutoff notice. “I have had my check here on the 21st of the month and it did not clear for six weeks. I have talked to other people and they have said the same thing.”
Council members set recently hired city worker Steve Hoyer’s salary at $10 per hour. Hoyer will assist city employee Dick Myers.
The long-awaited city zoning ordinance and map will be published in today’s News (it is on page 2 of today’s newspaper), Carver told the council. “Once we get the affidavit (of publication), it can be recorded (with the county recorder),” she noted. After the ordinance and map are recorded, the ordinance becomes law.
In final action, the council approved a bid of $17,056 from LL Pelling for summer street repair.
Next regular council meeting will be Tuesday, May 7, at 7 p.m. in the Community Center.