Like Cleburne and Johnson County, Keene budget makers are proposing a tax-rate increase.
The proposed rate would be 88 cents per $100 of valuation. That would be up 7 cents from 81 cents.
The rate hike would enable the city to buy a new $56,000 Tahoe for the police department, a $92,000 backhoe and $5,000 worth of mattresses to replace the used ones Burleson donated to the fire department, plus some other furniture. Other capital expenditures on the wish list include $18,000 worth of defibrillators for police and other local agencies, $30,000 worth of air conditioning for the animal shelter and $25,500 for a Homairto “jaws of life” unit.
Some of those capital expenditures may have to wait. The mayor and at least one councilman publicly balked at the proposed rate hike during Thursday’s budget workshop.
“What are you willing to do?” City Administrator Bill Guinn asked Councilman Dale Janes after the councilman questioned the need for a rate hike.
Said Janes, “Stay where we are.”
Mayor John Ackermann said, “Think that’s a good idea.”
Guinn said, “I don’t see any way we can keep it the current rate — not with increasing legal fees.”
Keene is due for a charter revision, which would entail increased legal fees, Guinn said.
Without a rate increase, personnel will take a hit, the fire and police chiefs agreed.
“It’s not safe, the way that we’re operating right now,” said Fire Chief Matt Gillin, who wants to add at least one firefighter next year.
He wants to make hires, as does the police chief, who is slated to receive a new officer under the current budget.
Guinn reminded the council that Keene has a high rate of rental property, low industrial tax base and, like most Johnson County municipalities, faces a drop in taxable property values, largely because of declines in natural gas production.
While Keene is making an effort to foster economic development to boost the tax base, updating infrastructure, which makes it easier to attract business, costs money. That means taxes, but higher tax rates or higher rates for services such as providing water, can scare off investors.
Sales tax isn’t helping the city much, Guinn said. Keene’s sales tax is one half to one third what most cities its size generate.
“It’s not the property tax is so high,” Guinn said. “It’s that the sales tax is so low.
“It has to be made up in property tax. For this lifestyle, you have to pay the property tax.”
In addition to lower property valuations, Guinn said a $20,000 drop in franchise fees is hitting the city with a “double whammy.”
After four hours of poking and prodding the budget proposal, the council told Guinn to go back to the drawing board. There are public hearings on Thursday and Sept. 12, and one more council workshop before a final vote on the budget.
“It’s all ‘proposed’ until you vote on it,” Guinn said. “I’ve got my marching orders. You might not like what I cut.”