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By CINDY SIMPSON
Rockwood leaders’ first approval of the city’s 2014 fiscal budget indicates that city property owners will be paying more when their tax bills arrive.
The budget’s first reading, approved 4-1 last week, calls for a property tax rate of 95 cents per $100 valuation. That’s up 5 cents from last year.
Vice Mayor Peggy Evans and Councilman Mike Freeman are usually on the same page fiscally, but this year she was the lone holdout against a rate increase.
“We don’t want to get in the position like the water department did a few years ago,” Freeman said, referring to the substantial water rate increase implemented a few years ago.
“I think it would be best to have gradual increases rather than a large tax increase.”
Councilman Jason Jolly pointed out the city in 2014 will be funding a full year of several positions, including park and recreation director, and recently approved capital purchases, such as a new fire truck.
The city has also been trying to steadily increase the amount of money in its rainy day fund.
Evans said she believes a tax increase will hurt residents in the present economic climate. She countered that the city instead can make further cuts and use part of the savings found to keep taxes at the same rate.
She voiced concern about how raising city taxes might affect property owners in light of county talks of a tax increase, including 19 cents on the county rate for the school system.
“There will be a lot of businesses that have to close,” Evans said after the meeting.
She again discussed her desire to implement a more fair way to give employee pay raises. She’s long been an opponent of giving percentage raises for some, while others receive pay increases based on merit.
“If we are going to do it, let’s do it across the board 2 percent,” she said.
Mayor James Watts said the $5.4 million proposed budget is smaller than last year’s and more than $700,000 less than the 2012 fiscal budget.
Council will likely meet at 5 p.m. June 17 to consider the budget and possibly implement it on final reading.
That’s the date of the regular monthly council meeting, but council will convene an hour earlier to have time to discuss the budget in detail.