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City budget OKed on second reading after lengthy analysis

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The Germantown Board of Mayor and Aldermen, along with city staff members and a handful of concerned citizens got to bed a little late Monday night as the city budget for the 2018 fiscal year was presented to the public.

Board members eventually approved the budget, which includes a 23-cent property tax increase, by a 3-2 vote Monday night in a meeting that ended just shy of midnight.

Germantown’s budget includes a property tax rate of $1.99 per $100 of assessed value, or 6 cents more than the current rate and 23 cents higher than the “tax neutral” rate calculated during reappraisal.

City officials said the rate increase is necessary to pay for the $33.5-million bond that will be issued for a new K-5 elementary school, improvements to Forest Hill-Irene Road to accommodate the school, and the eventual discontinuation of the state’s Hall Tax.

Aldermen John Barzizza and Dean Massey voted against the budget and questioned whether the city was violating its charter by giving benefits to City Administrator Patrick Lawton.

Noting that his salary is “one number,” Lawton said benefits are available to everyone and that his salary was set last year by the board.

Barzizza said matters like vacation buyback and automobile allowance for city officials should be line items in the budget.

“We don’t have full disclosure,” he noted.

Noting that the city is up in group insurance, per diem expenses, retirement expenses, employee education and fitness costs, Barzizza said, “I think we have a spending problem.”

Alderman Rocky Janda said many of the expenses that Barzizza was addressing were dramatically cut during the recession and were being brought back.

He added that the board voted on the salary of the city administrator last year and that “we have a legal opinion that is different from (Barzizza’s).”

“I think there is more here than those minor things that you’re talking about when it comes to the budget,” he said. “And you’re voting no for everything because you’re not getting what you want.”

Massey said he agreed with “much of what Barzizza said.”

He noted that the 13-percent tax increase “is not warranted in 2018.”

“Government is not in the business of making a profit,” he said. “But when I look at the general fund with a proposed property tax increase a profit is what I see.”

He added that the city shouldn’t raise the taxes “just because it is convenient since it was a reappraisal year.”

Lawton began the lengthy discussion of the $51.7-million general fund budget with a presentation that lasted just over 90 minutes.

“I asked you to do (the presentation) at an hour and a half, or less,” Palazzolo said. “I guess that’s close enough.”

Julius Moody, chairman of the city’s Financial Advisory Committee, addressed the board and expressed the committee’s confidence in the budget.

John Niven spoke during citizen’s comments and said there was “no fat in this budget.”