Usually A Tax Decrease Is Easy To Approve, That Isn’t The Case Here
The Jamestown City Council meets tonight to hold its final departmental budget reviews.
After that review, the real work starts.
As it stands today, the budget includes a tax rate decrease of 17 cents per 1,000 of assessed valuation and a tax levy decrease of $70,000. As nice as a tax cut would be, we’re not sure it’s achievable this year. Kim Ecklund, R-At Large and Finance Committee chairwoman, has already expressed her doubts about some pieces of the budget during council meetings, and we fully expect changes to be coming.
First and foremost, the city should not budget $1.1 million in retiree health care savings until after retirees have agreed to the move. A vocal group of retirees has said it will picket outside City Hall before tonight’s council meeting – which we take as a sign they aren’t yet on board with Mayor Eddie Sundquist’s plan to switch Medicare-eligible retirees to a Medicare supplement or advantage plan. If union members aren’t on board a legal challenge is likely, and the mayor and council members would be unwise to count on any savings until that challenge is decided.
If the savings aren’t assured, then passing the budget as proposed contains a massive structural hole that could be between $1.1 million and $1.6 million if the council doesn’t approve parking fee and fine increases. That’s a big hole to fill.
We’ve heard concerns from some council members. We hope, though, that all council members are concerned — and ready to make some potentially unpopular decisions in the coming weeks. This is the time for a conservative budget, not one that counts on potentially untenable savings that, if not realized, will cause the city to run through its fund balance in the course of one or two years.
Typically, budgets with a proposed tax decrease are easy ones to approve. That is not the case with Jamestown’s budget.