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City taxes to rise under approved budget

BY ALISON SULLIVAN | MARCH 02, 2011 7:20 AM

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Iowa City property owners will pay more in city taxes under the city’s newly approved $60 million budget for fiscal 2012.

Though the Iowa City City Council reduced the proposed tax levy by around 50 cents at its Tuesday meeting, property owners will pay $866 in city taxes starting July 1, up from about $833 in fiscal 2011.

“We always try to look at reducing [taxes], but some things there’s no control over,” Councilor Connie Champion said.

More tax levies are expected for the following fiscal year as well, which will most likely be closer to this year’s initially proposed $18 levy, said Iowa City Financial Director Kevin O’Malley.

“We’re going to have to look at some hard choices,” he said about the roughly $647,000 budget reduction city-wide.

Champion said there are certain factors beyond the council’s control when it comes to increasing tax levies. One of the only ways to avoid levies is to cut services and personnel.

“We do have to run a city,” she said.

Councilor Susan Mims said the councilors will have to watch rising tax levies as Iowa City develops economically. If taxes get too high, it could be difficult to attract residents and businesses, she said.

“We’re not particularly competitive at times with our neighbors,” Mims said, noting nearby towns’ lower tax levies.

Coralville has proposed maintaining its current tax levy at $13.53 with no cuts in city services.

But Mayor Matt Hayek and other councilors said “tough decisions” will be made in Iowa City. The council has approved both monetary and personnel reductions for public services. Safety services will lose one firefighter and one police officer.

Both the Fire Department and Police Department saw significant hiring increases in last year’s budget, so officials thought they could handle the cuts, O’Malley said.

During the meeting, Councilor Regenia Bailey said she is concerned with what cutting back safety measures says about Iowa City, because a budget is “a reflection of values.”

“I see a budget as a tool to move our policies and goals forward,” she said. “And in many ways, it doesn’t do that.”

Though Iowa City Fire Chief Andy Rocca said he has decided the inspector position will be reduced through attrition, the cut is still detrimental.

“We’ve always traditionally run on a lean [staff],” he said. “One cut, even one cut, can have an impact.”

Rocca said officials will intermingle the position’s duties with the fire marshal’s, but he anticipates delays in fire inspections and reviews because of the loss.

Police Chief Sam Hargadine said his department will also be hit.

“It’s a step backwards, but I also understand times are hard, and it wouldn’t have been my first choice to cut public safety when other departments aren’t seeing any cuts,” he said.

Most councilors maintained the cuts to safety would not cause much harm.

“I don’t see it as having any negative effect on public safety,” Mims said.


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