KENNETH CITY — Property owners here who open their tax notices need to brace themselves to see a proposed 51 percent leap in the tax rate to pay for town services in the coming year.
The change would raise the rate from its current $4.76 per $1,000 of assessed, taxable value to $7.20. The effect for a $150,000 home with a $50,000 homestead exemption would be an additional $244 in property taxes for 2013-14.
But Mayor Teresa Zemaitis says taxpayers shouldn't assume that number is real. The proposed tax rate is unlikely to be the final number once the budget is finally passed in September. Under state law, governments are forbidden from increasing a proposed tax rate once the TRIM notices are sent out, creating a kind of cap. But they can lower the rate.
So the Town Council, which is embroiled in heated debate over the budget, gave itself lots of wiggle room. In reality, Zemaitis said, the final tax rate is likely to be no higher than about $5.20 per $1,000 of assessed, taxable value, a 9 percent increase over the current rate. And, it's also possible, she said, that taxpayers would see no increase.
It all depends on the Town Council, which has the final say over spending.
And while items were eliminated from the wish lists of all departments in an effort to avoid raising taxes — Zemaitis axed $4,450 for a voicestreaming system that would have allowed residents to watch council meetings live on their computers — the main council disputes seem to center on the Police Department.
That's not a surprise. The department's $1.1 million operating budget accounts for about 55 percent of the town's overall $2 million budget.
Zemaitis suggested one way to cut police costs was to leave the department's one open position unfilled. The department, she said, seems to be functioning well with 11 officers rather than the 12 allowed under the current budget. Any gaps could be filled, she said, by one of the reserve officers the chief has requested. Reserve officers include former officers who want to retain their certification so they perform police duties as volunteers.
That, she said, could save the about $55,000 in salary and benefits as well as costs of training and equipment.
But at a budget workshop Wednesday, the other four council members disagreed, saying the town needs its full contingent of 12 officers. The cost is being added back to the proposed budget.
Council members are scheduled to meet again to thrash out budget issues at 6 p.m. Aug. 28 at the Community Hall, 4600 58th St. N. The meeting is open to the public.
Anne Lindberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8450.