Heading into budget season, it was obvious City Manager Rashad Young faced an arduous task. First, there was the $35 million shortfall. Then there was sign after sign that revenue projections were off — and not in a good way.
City councilors added to Young’s burden in December, instructing him to craft a budget without raising real estate taxes. They did give him leeway to hike other fees and levies, though.
We applauded the decision at the time. Yes, it meant hard choices and difficult cuts to popular city services down the road. But after a shocking 4-cent real estate tax hike during the fiscal 2014 budget debate — adding about $315 onto the average property owner’s annual bill — residents deserved the much needed breather.
It wasn’t a promise, but seemed at the very least a gentleman’s agreement. That’s why we held our tongue when councilors agreed to give themselves a bit of flexibility earlier this year, setting the advertised tax rate half a cent higher.
Having a bit of wiggle room made sense. And city councilors stressed it was just that — a bit of leeway as they entered the horse-trading phase of budget negotiations.
Now we know the truth: Keeping taxes flat for residents this year was a pipe dream at best, lip service at worst. On Monday, city councilors agreed to raise taxes on property owners for the second time in as many years.
A half-cent increase may not seem like much, but just ask any homeowner: It adds up, especially after last year’s hike. It also comes as property assessments creep ever higher.
Residential assessments overall increased by 3.88 percent in fiscal 2014, according to Young’s budget presentation, bumping the average tax bill to $5,091 over $4,901 the year prior. Owners of single-family homes saw a 3.7 percent increase, which translated into an estimated $249 addition to their tax bill. Meanwhile, condominium owners grappled with a 4.48 percent spike, adding about $128 onto the check they cut City Hall. (Single-family homes generally boast higher monetary values than condos, hence the difference in the dollar amount increase.)
City councilors had a chance to send a message this year. They had an opportunity to let residents know that last year’s tax hike was an anomaly borne out of dire circumstances and that they felt property owners’ pain.
They sent a message, all right: Residents — property owners in particular — can’t expect any sympathy from City Hall.