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Longview council adopts tax rate to fund $153 million budget

By Sherry Koonce
Sept. 13, 2012 at 10 p.m.

The Longview City Council adopted a 50 cent tax rate Thursday to fund a $153.1 million budget that was approved earlier this month.

City officials have described the budget as "conservative," though it contains funding for employee pay raises, a new city auditor's position, money for increased operational expenses, as well as a rate increase for water and sewer customers.

"I think it is a good budget for the city, a good conservative budget that provides for the city to continue services we provide in a cost effective manner," said City Manager David Willard.

Though the newly-approved tax rate is unchanged from this past year - 50 cents per $100 valuation - that does not mean taxpayers won't see an increase on their bills.

If the owner of a $100,000 house paid $500 this past year based on the 50 cent tax rate, that same house valued 2.5 percent more will cost an additional $12 in city taxes.

This year's property taxes collected combined with sales tax revenue is expected to raise 66 percent of the $60.3 million in general fund revenue projected in the 2012-13 fiscal year budget.

The city anticipates receiving $19.9 million in revenue from property taxes and another $19.9 million in sales tax revenue.

A loss in federal dollars is figured into the new budget.

For the third consecutive year, Longview water and sewer customers will see a rate increase on their bills. For the average customer using 7,000 gallons of water with a 5/8-inch meter, the bill would increase from $49.87 to $53.45 a month, a difference of $3.58.

Willard said the increase is necessary to offset many years when an increased cost of supplying water was not passed on to customers.

In 2008, a cost of service and rate design study performed by RW Beck recommended the city raise water and sewer rates. Willard said previously the city decided to implement the rate increases incrementally, rather than all at once. This year likely will not be the last of those increases, he said.

City employees will receive a 3 percent across-the-board pay raise, beginning in April.

The council approved an amendment to Willard's contract Thursday that will align his salary increase with other city employees who are only receiving a half-year raise.

Though this new budget was figured conservatively, Willard said, funding is included for city improvements, including $600,000 for street programs and $155,000 for new software to upgrade the city's aging traffic signals.

During storms, traffic signals often do not work properly. The new software will not only fix that problem, but will also aid in synchonization of lights at some locations to aid with traffic flow.

Also included in the budget is an added $90,000 to the city manager department for an auditor's salary, benefits and start-up.

The city's Parks and Recreation Department will get an $88,539 increase, mainly to fund a survey among Longview residents that will focus on parks projects.

Restroom upgrades at Maude Cobb Convention and Activity Center are included in the new budget along with $80,000 budgeted for a corridor study for pedestrian access to transit services.

Library improvements also are on tap, including a new drive-thru book return window and completion of the iMac lab.

The new budget contains funding for employee self-funded health insurance, which will cost the city an additional $371,511, up 4.6 percent from the previous year's cost of $8,097,841.

The new budget goes into effect Oct. 1.



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