Council decreases taxes by 1 percent

Published 11:36 am Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Austin City Council set next year’s city property taxes about 1 percent lower than in 2013 during its public meeting Tuesday night.

The city of Austin’s tax levy is set at about $4,120,000, up about $12,000 from what the council first proposed so the city could hire another police officer in January 2014, instead of in March. That’s still $40,000 less than this year’s tax levy, set at $4,160,000.

Council member Steve King urged the council to add an additional $12,000 to the levy for the new officer, to help the Austin Police Department’s workload.

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“This is definitely a needed position, and I would say those three months are critical to the position,” he said.

City officials previously thought new mandates would require the city to decrease property taxes by 1.25 percent, but the state Department of Revenue has recently said the state would allow additional debt services levies for cities. That means council members could have increased the tax levy by up to 3 percent, or to about $4.28 million.

Even if the council had done so, homeowners would have likely seen a decrease in their overall taxes, as more of the county’s tax burden will be placed on increasingly valuable agricultural land, according to Tom Dankert, the city’s finance director.

“I believe no matter what happens in 2014, the residential taxpayers of the city of Austin will pay less in residential taxes,” he told the council.

Ag land values have risen in recent years, which means they take up more of the county’s overall tax base when it comes to filing taxes with the state.

The council cut discussion short on the issue, as council member Jeff Austin made a motion to keep taxes almost the same, though some council members wanted the opportunity to discuss the city’s options.

“We planned the previous budget thinking we had no other options,” Janet Anderson said.

The council cut several expenditures from the budget in August, including $22,000 for a job evaluation process for city employees, a $20,000 city sign at the Northeast Industrial Park, $5,000 for a water fountain at the dog park and $4,000 for police badges.

Council members previously postponed hiring a new police officer until March 2014, which would have saved $12,000 from the officer’s proposed $74,000 salary in next year’s budget.

The council also:

—Voted 6-1 to drop a proposed review of the city’s yard sign ordinance. Council member Jeremy Carolan brought the policy forward once again after hearing complaints from residents about cars parked in odd spaces advertising garage sales. Several council members and Mayor Tom Stiehm countered Carolan’s arguments by pointing out previous discussions and the many complaints the city received over excess yard signs in areas like Skinner’s Hill and Wescott Athletic Complex.

—Discussed the city’s search for a new fire chief. Stiehm told the council the city’s Fire Civil Service Commission had seven applicants, including one from inside the Austin Fire Department. The commission met Monday to go over potential questions but hadn’t set interview dates, Stiehm said.

—Approved salary increases for three city supervisors, to keep their wages similar to nearby cities. The council approved a $3,000 increase to Police Captain Dave McKichan’s salary, to about $81,800 next year. Parks, Recreation and Forestry Director Kim Underwood will receive a $10,000 increase to make her salary about $77,000 next year, which Mayor Tom Stiehm said was the same salary as the previous Parks & Rec director, who was male. MIS Administrator Don Tomlinson will receive a $8,000 raise, to make his salary about $67,800 next year.