The Weatherford City Council took the first steps to reaching a decision on the tax rate and budget of the 2015 fiscal year at its meeting Aug. 12.
“What council decides tonight could financially affect our [Fiscal Year] 2015 budget,” said Kyle Lester, budget and strategic planning manager.
In this process, the staff proposes a tax rate based on the change in property values over the past year while taking into account other factors that can influence that rate.
Over the 2013 fiscal year, the values grew about 2 percent, making the effective tax rate $0.4575 per $100 of assessed value – that is the rate that would generate the same dollar amount from the previous year.
However, considering other factors and also the current year’s budget and goals, the staff recommended a slight increase to $0.4866, a 2.3 cent increase over the current tax rate of $0.4636. The extra revenue would likely be used for expanded street maintenance, fleet funding for the fire department and employee market adjustments.
The staff added that revenue to the current proposed budget so that more than $400,000 of the budget is contingent on that tax increase. If a lower rate is adopted, the staff would have to look for other areas where cuts could be made.
“I do feel like there’s a need for that,” Mayor Dennis Hooks said of the proposed tax increase. “I think we’ve cut back some of our services so much in the last five or six years, that we really need to get back in service to our citizens.”
City Manager Jerry Blaisdell pointed out that the staff’s decision on the proposal was based on the council’s own recommendations for what goals they believed need to be achieved in the upcoming year. But council member Heidi Wilder said some of those goals might need to be reconsidered or removed.
“I believe we offer tremendous services to our citizens,” Wilder said, suggesting the city might need to reevaluate some services to see if they are truly needed. “This is the citizens’ money.”
Council member Craig Swancy said without the added revenue, the city might become comparable to a minor league team with no reserves to back them up.
“We’re down to that,” Swancy said, however he also expressed faith in the city’s ability to bounce back because of frugal and conservative management. “Every year we have recovered.”
The council unanimously accepted the proposed tax rate, although that vote did not obligate the council to approve that rate. That action set that rate as the cap, but the council can decide on a lower rate when they officially adopt a rate at a future meeting.
Public hearings will be held at the normal City Council meetings on Aug. 26 and Sept. 9 before a rate is adopted.