The Chadron City Council took final action this week on the budget for the new fiscal year that begins October 1st.
The total budget of $20.5-million dollars includes reserves, capital projects, and the street, water, and wastewater funds as well as basic operations.
The general fund, which covers only basic city operations, is just over $5-million with a property tax request of a little under $1.2-million and total property tax levy of $1.233-million.
The overall budget is about $1.4-million higher than last year because of additional federal stimulus and infrastructure funds while the general fund is $2.3-million less because several grant-funded projects that were in the general fund are now in the capital projects fund.
City Manager John Sutherland and Finance Director Michelle Stoke had to scramble to make budget changes after the state last week retroactively reduced last year’s total assessed value for the city almost 15% or $11-million dollars because of a ruling on the value of a major utility company’s land statewide.
The proposed budget called for keeping the tax rate unchanged at 43.65-cents per hundred dollars of assessed value with the dollar amount rising because of a 5.4% increase in total valuation, but the valuation reduction for last year triggered a new law requiring a separate budget hearing if taxes are to increase over 5%.
An announcement of such a hearing must be mailed to all landowners, but Sutherland says the notice from the state on lowering the valuation came too late for the hearing process, forcing last-minute budget cuts and shifts.
The result was a 1.8% reduction in the operating budget and a property tax request that’s about $1,250 dollars under the trigger with a rate of 42.61-cents per hundred – penny less than the current rate,
Greg Yanker, Sutherland’s predecessor, slashed spending when he took over to replenish city reserves, but Sutherland says some of the reserves have grown so large he thinks it’s time to start using them on projects such as streets and cut property taxes.
The council this week also approved utility rates and city fees for the coming fiscal year, including a 10% increase in water rates and fees to better match actual costs.
The average residential customer using 300 cubic feet of water will pay about $13.50 a month. Chadron alternates each year between raising sewer fees and water fees. The monthly sewer rate rose 5% last year.