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New budget holds line on taxes

For the second year running, Crystal River property owners may be looking at a tax rate that holds the line at the current level and a slight decrease in the city budget.

City Council members are getting their first look at the staff's proposed budget this week. Council workshops on the spending plan are scheduled for July 6 and 19.

The proposed millage rate for the coming year is 6.63 mills, or $6.63 in tax for every $1,000 in assessed, non-exempt taxable property value. That is the same rate the city levied for the past two years.

The tax revenue would partially fund the proposed $3,199,216 general-fund budget, which is down slightly from this year's $3,367,750 budget.

"Our revenue has been going down," said City Manager Merv Waldrop. "It's not a good budget. I'm not real excited about this one. This one keeps our millage rate from going up, but it doesn't meet all of our needs."

Waldrop said that, to keep the tax rate in line, the city will have to begin reducing the cash reserve, which had totalled about $1-million at the beginning of this budget year.

That cash reserve would have to be used for part of the cost of replacing fire trucks lost in the March storm and for extensive renovations planned for the newly acquired county half of the city-county building, Waldrop said.

The city has received some of its insurance settlement but no money yet from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the damage done by the storm. Waldrop said he is expecting the city to receive about $500,000 from those two sources, money that will be rolled back into the cash reserve.

The budget recommends combining the vehicle maintenance and facilities maintenance departments into one department and cutting one laborer position that is unfilled.

Pay increases are included in the budget proposal based on the city's established step plan, which adds 5 percent for each year of experience until an employee reaches the maximum in the job description. A cost-of-living raise of about 3 percent also is included.

There are no major capital expenses in the proposal.

Waldrop said the budget was designed so tight because several council members had told him they hoped to see taxes go down this year.

For Waldrop, the presentation of the budget is one of his last official duties. He has resigned to take the job of county administrator in Meriwether County, Ga. His last day with the city is July 16.