Council approves budget, tax levy

Published 7:02 am Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The City of Austin approved its 2010 tax levy Monday night, and some first-time city taxpayers went home unhappy with what figures to be a big increase.

Residents of the Lansing Township area recently annexed into the city are paying Austin taxes for the first time next year — a switch that will be costing some people hundreds of dollars in new taxes.

This includes Roger Jennings. The Lansing-area resident said his 2010 tax estimate shows a roughly $600 increase in the city portion compared to what was the township portion in 2009.

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“There are a lot of people out there pretty unhappy about this whole thing,” he said during the meeting. Several other Lansing residents in attendance echoed this sentiment.

Jennings said he hasn’t noticed an improvement in services since his area officially became part of the city earlier this year. Improved services — namely in the area of wastewater treatment — is what prompted the 338-acre annexation.

“When will I see the difference (for the extra taxes)?” Jennings said.

The big increase Lansing residents are staring at now is a result of two tax rates going in opposite directions in the past four years.

In 2006, when annexation talks first got underway, the city had a 29.1 percent tax rate. The township’s rate that year was 26.7 percent.

It was these two figures that were compared during annexation discussions and used as a sign that a move into the city wouldn’t cost residents much at all.

However, the Lansing tax rate plummeted since then, going as low as 13.7 percent in 2009. At the same time, the city’s rate steadily increased, hitting 33.7 percent in 2009 and expected to grow again slightly next year.

This means that Lansing-area residents are looking at this particular tax rate more than doubling between 2009 and 2010 as they enter Austin.

“We were told that nothing basically was going to change,” Jennings said.

However, Austin Administrative Services Director Tom Dankert said that to get the city’s tax rate to be at a level similar to where Lansing residents had it last year, the levy would have to be cut by 64 percent — or roughly $2.5 million out of $3.9 million.

And with looming uncertainty over whether state funding in the form of Local Government Aid — which makes up roughly half of the city’s general fund every year — will be slashed as the state faces a projected $1.2 billion deficit through mid-2011, such a cut to city taxes would not likely be feasible.

In addition to the $3.9 million tax levy approved Monday, the city also approved a $27 million operating budget.

Like the tax levy, this number is heavily influenced by the state — city officials have said that changes in LGA funding will directly affect how Austin operates in 2010.