With some fanfare, the Fayetteville City Council last Monday unanimously adopted its FY2018 budget without a tax increase.
That’s great for incumbent Councilmembers who face opposition during the upcoming fall municipal election and didn’t want to face the ire of property owners. But it’s not so great for citizens next year when the Council’s ambitious spending spree comes home to roost.
I predict there will be a call for a major tax increase next year. As Councilman Jim Arp recently told a civic group, he never knew of any governmental entity that asked for less money than in previous years.
So, the tax rate remains at 49.95 cents per $100 valuation. City Manager Doug Hewett wanted to bump the tax rate to 52.7 cents. The 2.7 cent hike would make up for what the City will lose because of declining property values.
Lower property values result in a 4.6 percent loss in property taxes. However, budget analysts estimate the City will gain 1.75 percent in personal property taxes and another 3.5 percent in motor vehicle taxes. They also project a 4.1 percent growth in sales taxes.
According to budget gurus, the 52.7 cent tax rate would get the City the same amount from property taxes it got last year, and property owners wouldn’t really shell out more money.
But City Council balked at the idea of “raising” taxes, even to a revenue neutral state. Instead, they let Hewett come up with increasing fees.
What’s the difference between taxes and fees, you may ask? Well, fees aren’t deductible on your federal tax returns. And, I’ve never heard of fees going down. I’ve always considered them a euphemism for taxes.
Hewett asked for and got a 59.26 percent fee increase for picking up your garbage, recyclables, leaves and pine straw, and on occasion some of the big stuff you haul to the curb.
The increase from $44 to $108 is $64 a year. It’s still a good deal for getting stuff taken away from your house unless you live in the western part of the City. That’s the area swallowed up by the 2005 Big Bang annexation, and where the City touted its green rollout garbage can as part of a deal of a lifetime for those being annexed.
That’s a $5.33 per month increase that people in the annexed areas were initially told would be part of their City taxes.
The stormwater fee also increased, from $45 to $51. I can’t argue with that. We need all the help we can get to stem flooding in Fayetteville. Hurricane Matthew proved that. But most people won’t see a direct benefit, except for an occasional street sweeper or drain-clearing project. The proposed $2.26 million for stormwater drainage projects just won’t spread across a city the size of Fayetteville.
Overall, the FY 2018 budget increases spending by about 1 percent over last year. There are some big-ticket items on the horizon. There’s the $33 million downtown baseball stadium; $3.6 million for a parking deck at City Hall; $400,000 for land for short-term downtown parking; and $529,000 for operating costs for the soon-to-be-completed $11 million downtown transit center that’s already $400,000 over budget.
Hewett and his budgeteers will have an interesting and perhaps stressful time coming up with a hold-the-line budget next year. Then again, it’s not a municipal election year.