COLUMBUS — Columbus City Council members unanimously approved a 2017-18 budget this week that keeps the property tax rate at the same level for the upcoming fiscal year.
The $73.8 million spending plan includes a property tax levy of 31.519 cents for every $100 in valuation, the same figure authorized for the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. That means the owner of a $100,000 home will pay $315.19 in annual property taxes to support municipal operations.
The city has held the property tax rate steady or lowered it every year since 2005-06, excluding 2009-10 when the city took control of Columbus Municipal Airport and added that taxing authority.
Although the levy isn’t changing, the city will still collect more property taxes next fiscal year thanks to a 2.2 percent increase in local valuations.
The city’s total valuation grew to $1.495 billion, up $33.16 million from last year. Of that increase, $17.69 million can be attributed to growth while $15.47 million comes from the revaluation of existing properties.
Columbus property values jumped $94.7 million last year, with $34.63 million coming from growth and $60.07 million because of revaluations.
“The comparisons are quite different, but I don’t believe there is anything to be concerned about, as some years the Platte County assessor concentrates his review of property valuations to within the city of Columbus and some years spends his efforts on property outside the city of Columbus,” City Finance Director Anne Kinnison explained in a memo to council members.
State law requires every property to be reviewed at least once every six years by the county assessor’s office.
The valuation increase will allow the city to collect $4.71 million in property taxes next fiscal year, up from $4.6 million this year, with about $4.14 million going to the general fund and $575,700 used to repay outstanding debt.
Currently, the city levy makes up about 16 percent of the total property tax rate paid by Columbus residents. Columbus Public Schools’ tax levy represents 65 percent of the total, Platte County’s share is 10 percent and the remainder goes to Central Community College, Lower Loup Natural Resources District, Educational Service Unit 7 and the Platte County Agricultural Society.
The $74 million municipal budget approved this week represents a significant decline from 2016-17, when the city council authorized a $103.6 million spending package.
However, the budget approved in September of each year is simply a blueprint that’s certain to change as new projects arise and others fall to the back burner.
The city expects to spend only $61.41 million of the authorized budget amount this fiscal year as some projects were pushed down the road.
Next year’s budget includes $30.22 million in capital items, down from $54.1 million planned for 2016-17.
Among the high-dollar projects are the ongoing construction of the Third Avenue viaduct and 18th Avenue pedestrian overpass; property acquisition and design work for the 12th Avenue viaduct; continued expansion of the wastewater treatment plant; property acquisition and design work for the planned public safety improvements, which may include construction of a joint fire/police station; and upgrading some downtown traffic signals, replacing others with stop signs and improving pedestrian crossings.
The budget also includes a 4.5 percent increase to the pay scale for non-union city employees and raises projected at 2.5 percent for police and fire personnel covered by the negotiated union contracts. Currently, municipal wages here are roughly 9 percent lower than what’s paid by comparable cities, according to City Administrator Tara Vasicek.
The city is adding five full-time employees, including three at Columbus Community Center, which the city took over this summer following Catholic Charities’ departure. Those positions aren’t new, but were removed from the city payroll when the senior center shifted to the Columbus Family Resource Center and Catholic Charities began operating the facility.
A full-time fire chief was hired in August and a second information technology employee will be added.