Fire tax set at 3.55 mills

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The City Council passed a mill levy lower than expected in its final approval of the November-ballot property tax question.

The council will ask voters to approve a 3.55 mill levy on property taxes, which will support the city fire and ambulance services. The request is down from 4 mills, which the city had approved in the first reading of the ordinance in July.

The property tax would raise $1.4 million, which is dedicated to the fire department but also frees up $1.2 million in the city's general fund. The council has said the money would be used toward capital improvements.

City Finance Director Don Taylor said the fire department's operating budget and five-year capital improvement plan came in about $300,000 less than what the city had expected. That decrease allowed the city to lower its mill levy.

If passed by the voters in November, the impact residents would see to their tax bill is $28 for every $100,000 of assessed value for residential property. A commercial property owner would see $103 for every $100,000 of assessed value.

The fire tax also would allow the city to add six more firefighters and EMS personnel to its fire department, which will double its full-time staff. Right now, the city has two firefighters and EMS personnel on duty per shift.

"Two people do not provide enough coverage," Taylor told the council.

In his presentation to the council, Taylor also pointed out capital improvement requests made by different city departments.

Even if the tax were passed, Taylor said, there would be about a $3 million shortfall in the next five years between the capital improvement requests coming from the city and what the city is able to fund.

Projects that have been requested include putting in underground electricity in Old Town, paving projects, renovating the public safety building and replacing the roofing on the Tennis Center.

Council members have highlighted the need to let voters know before they go to the polls where the increased money in the capital improvement fund will be spent. The council is holding a meeting Sept. 16 to decide just that.

Taylor's presentation also showed the property tax that would need to be generated if sales tax was lowered. If sales tax was eliminated on utility bills, 3.3 mills are needed, and if sales tax was eliminated on food, 4 mills would be needed.

November's ballot question will be the second time in two years the city has asked voters to approve a property tax. Last November, a proposed 5-mill levy failed by 250 votes. That tax would have raised $1.9 million and added another $600,000 to the fire department for additional firefighters, and it would have freed up $1.3 million in the general fund.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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