By Brenden West
A tentative decision on Monday to slash $260,161 from the city’s Fiscal Year 2015 budget came down to one vote.
If the 4-3 budget vote holds until the March 17 deadline, it would mean a 27-cent reduction in the Clinton property tax rate — a savings of $13.27 annually for the average property owner.
According to a summary report created by Clinton Finance Director Anita Dalton, the cut also would result in major reductions for the Police and Fire departments. Police would lose an estimated $93,410; Fire would be slashed by $74,472. Three other departments — Library, Parks and Recreation — would see decreases of more than $10,000 with the library losing roughly $18,723.
The city would do away with its emergency levy, which allows cities to tax up to 27 cents (per $1,000 in assessed property value). This would decrease Clinton’s property tax rate from a proposed $16.62 to $16.35.
The Clinton City Council made its vote toward the end of a budget workshop. After spending the previous three sessions picking apart the Clinton general fund, councilman Ed O’Neill polled colleagues’ thoughts on eliminating the emergency levy.
“If we don’t do something today, we’re going to fail,” he said.
Although he felt the city should strive for a $12 rate, O’Neill added a $16.35 rate this year is a start.
Council members and Mayor Mark Vulich had varying views on the subject. Those in favor of the cut — O’Neill, John Rowland, Tom Determann and Julie Allesee — reasoned the city was funding too many services it can no longer afford and that the new council was elected to lower taxes.
“The hardest thing to do in this job is to say ‘no,’” Rowland said. “Nobody likes to see cuts. Nobody likes to see people lose their jobs... We’re just kidding ourselves if we think we can fund everything for everybody.”
Those against — Lynn McGraw and Paul Gassman — said the cut would put Clinton in a bind by decreasing potential revenues.
“I don’t think a $13 decrease is going to impress the average homeowner,” McGraw said.
One councilman remained uncertain. Grant Wilke initially said he was in favor of the cut. But after hearing the drawbacks from Gassman, Wilke motioned to hold the tax rate at $16.62.
Although Vulich did not have a vote, O’Neill queried the mayor’s input as well. Vulich said he was against the cut, echoing Gassman’s concerns over employee wages. He also cautioned the council didn’t know specific repercussions of the cut.
“I have to believe that some staff would be let go,” said Vulich, adding that could threaten public safety. “If I’m going to pay $13 more a year, I want to make sure there’s a fireman that can come to my doorstep.
“I’m very concerned about our contracts with our employees. If we make these cuts now and take this money out of the budget and they come back with two or three percent (wage increases), then we’re going to have to actually make further cuts because we won’t be able to pay those.”
Dalton prepared a detailed narrative of how a $450,000 cut would look across departments on Feb. 3, which the city is no longer considering. That proposed cut would have eliminated four full-time police jobs, three full-time fire jobs and three part-time library jobs.
Vulich asked Dalton to prepare a similar report for the council’s fifth and final workshop on Feb. 17.
Although the current proposed rate reflects the cut, there are still several steps to be made between now and when the budget is finalized. City leaders will hold their final budget session next week, set a public hearing date, hold the public hearing and vote on an official FY15 budget before its March 17 deadline.
Monday’s discussion ended the city’s scheduled talks about the general fund.