- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—COLUMBUS — City leaders are proposing a fiscal year 2015-16 budget that increases spending by about $20 million while leaving the property tax levy unchanged for the fifth straight year.

The preliminary budget, which includes $75.85 million in total spending, was discussed for the first time Monday night by Columbus City Council members, who won’t adopt the final spending package until Sept. 8.

Under the proposed budget, the city’s property tax levy will stay at 32.52 cents for every $100 in valuation — where it’s remained since 2011. That translates to $325.20 in annual property taxes on a $100,000 home.

City officials are currently expecting to receive around $4.25 million in property taxes next fiscal year, the same figure included in this year’s budget. However, that number will likely change when the final valuation figures are released by the county assessor’s office in August.

Columbus properties were valued at $1.3 billion last year and preliminary numbers from March 2015 show that total jumped to $1.33 billion because of growth and revaluations.

Councilman Jim Bulkley asked about the possibility of lowering the tax levy to offset rising property values, but the question gained little traction during Monday night’s meeting.

City Administrator Joe Mangiamelli told Bulkley a reduction in the tax rate comes with consequences, and the council would be forced to cut funding for some programs or services to make up for the lost revenue.

The city’s property tax levy has remained steady or declined each year since at least 2004-05, excluding 2009-10 when the city took control of Columbus Municipal Airport and added that taxing authority.

In 2014, the city levy represented about 17 percent of the total property tax rate in Columbus — $1.96 for every $100 in valuation, or $1,960 annually on a $100,000 property.

The other local taxing entities are Columbus Public Schools, which receives 64 percent of the tax total, Platte County (11 percent), Central Community College-Columbus (5.6 percent), Lower Loup Natural Resources District (1.2 percent), Educational Service Unit 7 (.8 percent) and the Platte County Agricultural Society (.6 percent).

The city’s proposed budget increases spending by 5.5 percent over the $71.86 million plan approved for this fiscal year, but several high-dollar projects scheduled for 2014-15 were pushed back a year.

Mayor Mike Moser said the city will likely only spend around $52 million this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

The 2015-16 spending package includes $33.39 million in capital projects, including construction of the Third Avenue viaduct and 18th Avenue pedestrian overpass, Loup River levee improvements and design work for the 12th Avenue viaduct, joint police/fire station and downtown library/cultural arts center.

Sales tax revenue, which is used to fund several projects as well as promote economic development and cover operational shortfalls at Pawnee Plunge Water Park and Columbus Aquatic Center, is budgeted at $6 million for 2015-16. Local sales tax receipts are projected to reach $6.25 million this year.

Two percent pay increases for non-union employees and the addition of a construction observer/surveyor position for the engineering department are part of the proposed budget, as well.

The plan also boosts the pay scale for police dispatchers in an effort to attract and retain quality employees for that position, promotes a library assistant and increases salaries for supervisors in the water and wastewater departments. Those moves are expected to add approximately $26,400 to the city payroll.


(c)2015 the Columbus Telegram (Columbus, Neb.)

Visit the Columbus Telegram (Columbus, Neb.) at www.columbustelegram.com

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