COLUMBUS — City leaders crafted a spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year that leaves the property tax levy unchanged while lowering the overall budget by 29 percent.
The $74 million budget proposed for 2017-18 keeps the city’s property tax rate at 31.52 cents for every $100 in valuation, or $315.19 annually for the owner of a $100,000 home.
The city’s property tax rate has held steady or declined every year since 2005-06, excluding 2009-10 when the city took control of Columbus Municipal Airport and added that taxing authority. Last year city council members decided to shave a penny from the tax levy to help offset rising property valuations.
Preliminary estimates from the Platte County Assessor’s Office show total property valuations are expected to climb to near $1.49 billion in Columbus this year, up about $23 million from 2016 because of growth and revaluations.
Final valuation numbers will be released by the assessor’s office later this month.
The city plans to collect roughly $4.68 million in property taxes next fiscal year — up $74,295 from 2016-17 — with about $4 million going to the general fund and the remainder used to pay off 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 overall budget is expected to drop from $103.6 million to $74 million next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, largely because of a reduction in capital improvement projects.
A total of $30.45 million in capital items are included in the proposed budget, down from $54.1 million for the current fiscal year.
This includes high-dollar projects such as construction of the Third Avenue viaduct and 18th Avenue pedestrian overpass, property acquisition and design work for the 12th Avenue viaduct and the continued expansion of the wastewater treatment plant.
There is $2.4 million budgeted next fiscal year to design and purchase property for the planned public safety improvements, which could lead to construction of a joint fire/police station, and $1.15 million to upgrade some downtown traffic signals, replace others with stop signs and improve pedestrian crossings.
Other planned projects include designing a new cemetery maintenance shop, which must be relocated to clear space for the 12th Avenue viaduct; building a new restroom and shelter at Bradshaw Park and covered horseshoe pits at Frontier Park near the Armed Forces Readiness Center; installing new playground equipment in Pawnee Park West and Sunset Park; replacing the visitors’ side bleachers at Pawnee Park’s Memorial Stadium; completing phase one of the Powerhouse Trail, which will eventually stretch from Third to 33rd avenues; adding an outdoor area for remote-control car racing, assuming the private contributions are available; constructing a building to store snow-removal equipment at Columbus Municipal Airport, assuming federal assistance is provided; and replacing the roofs on the Quail Run Golf Course clubhouse and Columbus Public Library buildings.
There are also plumbing repairs needed at the library building, which City Administrator Tara Vasicek noted the city will continue to use even if a new library/cultural arts center is constructed.
The budget includes a 4.5 percent pay increase 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 Vasicek.
The budget also adds 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 is expected to be hired next week and a second information technology employee is being requested.
A community service technician will be shifted from the police department to community development to focus on nuisance property and maintenance violation enforcement.
The 2017-18 budget is expected to be adopted Sept. 5 following a public hearing on the plan.