City eyes pay raises, dropping tax rate in preliminary budget

Metro Creative

City counselors got their first look at a preliminary 2019-20 fiscal year budget earlier this week, which includes municipal pay raises, water and wastewater increases, upgrades to the downtown cultural district and a property-tax increase but no rate hike. 

The city is projecting a 2.76% property tax revenue increase and a 9.3% sales tax revenue increase within the next year, and is looking to make public safety and infrastructure its top priorities. Total general fund collections are estimated at $16.7 million next year — which includes revenues from property tax, sales tax, municipal court fines and franchise fees.

“This is a snapshot of where we are now, but we still have a good ways to go,” city manager Aron Kulhavy said. “With this budget we feel that we can maintain the level of services we offer, while lowering the tax rate.”

The city’s general property tax rate of $3.422 for every $1,000 in assessed property value is expected to drop, as officials presented a revenue increase with an effective rate of $2.956 per $1,000.

Property value assessments aren't completed until July 31 and could affect the final city budget. The current fiscal year operating budget totaled $68.5 million, of which $15.8 million was general fund money.

The city manager will deliver the recommended 2020 budget on August 9, with a possible public hearing and budget additions scheduled for August 20. The city’s fiscal year will begin October 1.

“We have been blessed to be in a good financial situation,” Mayor Andy Brauninger said with the city currently holding $4.9 million of excess unallocated reserves in the general budget.

The budget includes $198,712 in merit and step pay increases for city employees, and $233,502 for the implementation of the second round of a compensation study. If implementation passes, all city employees – including public safety officers – will be brought up to market value.

The proposed city of Huntsville general fund budget also includes decision packages that call for $75,000 for new lighting in the downtown district, $95,114 for a street study update and $44,700 in vacation buy-backs.

The city’s utility fund is expected to grow by $200,000 in water sales and $302,500 in wastewater revenues. It also includes proposed wastewater rate increase of $1.85 per month for customers using 7,000 gallons of water and a $0.06 cent per month on water bills. Overall the utility fund expenditures are expected to increase by approximately 3.3%.

Solid waste revenues are estimated to increase by 3%, while health insurance revenues are expected to grow by 2.3%.

The next meeting of the Huntsville City Council is scheduled for July 16.