MORROW The Morrow City Council will raise its property taxes in an effort to balance the city's $13.9 million operating budget.
The budget, which was approved Tuesday, included a $406,525 increase in property tax revenues and a $31,639 increase in vehicle tax revenues. Finance Director Dan Defnall said that is because the city is raising its tax rate by 2 mills. Morrow's millage rate will become 9.5 mills, he said.
The city was facing a choice between raising taxes and cutting personnel, said Defnall. More than half of the city's employees work in public safety, he added.
"It's very tight and we're trying to focus on our core services of public safety," said Defnall. "Our only other option was to make some personnel cuts in our police and fire departments."
It is possible many residents may never see an increase in the taxes they pay because the city has a homestead exemption of $150,000 in fair market value. That equals $60,000 in taxable value on a home, said Defnall.
The budget shows the tax increase was not the only action the city took to balance its budget. The city is projecting to spend $1.8 million less in fiscal year 2014.
The biggest cut is a $1.55 million reduction in the capital projects budget that leaves it with less than $1 million set to be spent in that area next year. But many of the capital projects cut were one-time expenses that would not have been repeated in upcoming year anyway.
Those one-time expenses included $243,600 for Phase 3 of the Jesters Creek Path trail.
But capital expenses were not the only areas cut. Other noticeable cuts include a $93,513 reduction in personnel expenses for the Planning and Economic Development Department. Former economic development Director Michael McLaughlin resigned last month and a large reduction in personnel costs for the department indicates the city is seriously considering distributing his duties to other employees rather than hiring a replacement.
Officials previously said that might be the direction they went with the department, but they were keeping their options open.
Defnall said a hiring freeze will be put into effect and employees will not receive raises because of the budget constraints.
However, there are some increases in expenses that Defnall said the city could not forego. A major expense was mandatory increases in health benefits expenses. He said health care costs are increasing 15 percent as new federal mandates go into effect.
Despite the tax increases, revenues are projected to be down by $1.8 million.
The largest revenue is a projection that Morrow's Municipal Court will produce $909,775 less next year. That is by far the largest single revenue reduction. The city is being sued over court fees charged to defendants whose charges were reduced to a warning. Attorneys for one of the people suing the city estimates the city collected about $1 million in court fees.
Defnall said he wasn't sure if that was why court officials anticipate a drop in revenues.
Other reductions in revenues are spread out across the budget. Notable reductions, however, can be seen in plumbing license and heating and A/C permit fees.
Plumbing license fees are expected to drop $2,040, from $3,000 to $960. Heating and A/C permit fees are expected to drop $855, from $1,850 to $995.
Some of those smaller cuts are offset by small increases here and there, such as an anticipated $1,058 increase in proceeds from criminal history reports.
The new budget goes into effect July 1.