Friday, August 16, 2013
Property owners in Newton will soon be hit with two different property tax increases, one from the city and one from the county.
Harvey County and the city of Newton both approved a mill levy increase as part of the budget for next year. In the county, the mill levy will increase by 4.5 mills. In the city, the increase will be 5 mills.
In terms of the city, it's the first significant mill levy increase since 2006.
"It was a tough budget year and these were some of the toughest decisions we have had to make," said Lunda Asmani, Newton city finance department manager. "We wished we wouldn't have had to have made this choice but we just couldn't do it any other way."
When city leaders began budget discussions this year, they faced a $1.7 million deficit between revenue and expenditures, Asmani said.
Leaders say the city is struggling with a combination of an increase in the cost of doing business and a decrease in interest earnings. In addition, the city is now fully funding some positions that had been covered by federal grants. On top of it all, the city is growing, especially on the south side.
To avoid higher taxes, the city held the mill levy relatively steady and relied on reserve funds to balance the budget, Asmani said.
But this year, he says, they just couldn't tap the reserve any more.
Proposals included cutting three firefighter positions, two police officer positions, and personnel in the legal and finance departments. They also discussed the possibility of not performing some street improvements, not providing funds for some non-profit agencies, and having police not respond to non-emergency calls.
But city leaders decided all of those services were too important, Asmani said.
"It seemed to the (city) commission that we had exhausted all other options and we were at a point that we had to do something on the revenue side," Asmani said.
The city started by considering a 7 mill increase before incorporating a 5 mill increase into the final budget. The budget was approved Tuesday night.
Meanwhile, the county is raising the mill levy primarily to provide funding for road and bridge projects.
Many property owners who talked to KAKE News say having both the county and city property taxes increase at the same time, is going to be a bit tough to absorb.
"The size of the check I'm going to have to write will just get a little bigger and I'm not happy about it," said Jason Mitchell, who owns numerous properties in Newton.
But the county and city leaders say the tax increase is crucial to moving forward.
"What this budget really does is keep us whole," Asmani said. "It allows us to provide the same level of service."