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Tax increase set for Longview in 2012

By Jimmy Isaac jisaac@news-journal.com
Aug. 12, 2011 at 1:26 a.m.

The tax increase Longview voters asked for is on the horizon.

The city has proposed a 50.09-cent property tax rate for the 2012 budget year. The rate includes an unchanged maintenance and operations rate of 38.62 cents per $100 taxable value, plus 13.47 cents for debt service. The debt rate increased from 11.78 cents after voters approved a $52.6 million street bond proposal in May.

City Manager David Willard addressed the rate as part of his nearly $150 million spending plan for 2012 at Thursday's City Council meeting. Council members also rezoned Magnolia Lane property to make way for apartment homes and named a new mayor pro tem.

Last year's property tax rate of 48.4 cents and the 2012 proposed rate are higher than the effective rate of 48.13 cents - the rate needed to generate the same amount of revenue as in the current budget.

For taxpayers, the average taxable home value increased from $132,325 this past year to $135,465 in 2012. That means the average tax bill, with the proposed 50.09-cent rate, would be $678.54, representing an increase of $38.09, or a nearly 6 percent jump.

If the rate remained unchanged, homeowners would see an average tax bill of $655.65.

Public hearings on the tax rate are scheduled for Monday, Aug. 22, and Thursday, Aug. 25, at City Hall, 300 W. Cotton Street. Both hearings begin at 5:30 p.m.

City Council members could adopt the budget as soon as Aug. 25, and tax rate on Sept. 8, but they have until Sept. 30. The 2011-2012 fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

We the People-Longview, a local tea party group, asked its members through emails to view Willard's July 28 presentation on the budget and show up at Thursday's meeting to express their sentiments, according to an email from We the People-Longview organizer Cindy Schwartz.

However, no one spoke during public comment about the budget or tax rate.

The bulk of Thursday's meeting at City Hall focused not on the budget but instead on three developers' plans to build an apartment complex on Magnolia Lane between Judson Road and Horseshoe Lane. More than a half dozen council members, residents and developer Brad Tidwell spoke during a public hearing and discussions on the matter.

In the end, council members voted 5-1 to rezone the property to multi-family. The rezone was recommended by the Planning and Zoning Commission.

District 6 Councilman Sidney Allen, who provided the lone dissenting vote, said he was approached by residents on the issue and had several questions, particularly on issues of drainage and buffering. City Planner Michael Shirley said the project's west side - adjacent to several homes - would have buffering, though city ordinance requires minimum six-foot buffering.

Developers Tidwell, Tommy Turner and Terry Cook have yet to submit detailed design plans. No project within the city can affect drainage in a detrimental manner.

"We just want to be protected," Magnolia Lane resident Sherri Oldham said. "I have concerns about safety, noise, lights, traffic ... I'm not opposed to progress. I just want to protect my property, and with straight-up zoning that was approved, I'm not going to get that. A six-foot fence is not very much."

Allen was dismayed that, immediately following discussion, Mayor Jay Dean got a motion and second to approve the rezone and took a vote.

Allen said he wanted to ask that restrictions be placed on the project to protect some adjacent property owners, and Allen told Dean that the quick vote - following more than 30 minutes of discussion - deleted any chance of requiring certain privacy fencing.

Dean retorted the project was from a credible developer and had won approval from city staff and Planning and Zoning, "and I personally have confidence in their integrity."

Finally, council members appointed District 5 Council Richard Manley as mayor pro tem for the coming year.

The City Council rotates the "mayor pro tem" tag to each council member by district from greatest to least, numerically. For example, Manley, of District 5, follows Allen, of District 6, who was mayor pro tem for the past year. At this time in 2012, the pro-tem tag will roll to District 4 Councilman Wayne Frost.

During budget discussions, Manley suggested the city change its fund balance policy from a minimum 10 percent of general fund expenses to as much as 25 percent. Dean said past municipal administrators abused the fund balance by funding part of the budget with reserves.

Frost added that times are too uncertain to address the issue now, but Manley said he would reintroduce the issue at the Aug. 25 meeting.

"I still maintain that I'd like that (fund balance requirement) somewhere higher than 10 percent," Manley said.



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