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Split council adopts budget, tax rate on initial vote

By DAVID TEWES
Sept. 7, 2010 at 4:07 a.m.

Gabriel Soliz

OTHER DECISIONSThe city council also approved on final vote a ban on the sale of animals from an outdoor location visible from arterial or collector streets.

Animal control officers will be charged with enforcing the law, but it does not prohibit police officers from also enforcing it.

The decision came after people asked the city council to regulate the sale of animals by roadside vendors. They are concerned about the way the animals are treated and about people buying diseased pets.

While city staff was praised for putting together a responsible budget proposal, the city council split over adopting the budget and tax rate.

"This is really a beans-and-rice budget," Council Member Gabriel Soliz said.

But Soliz and Council Member David Hagan cast the dissenting votes on the budget and tax rate action, with Council Member Joe Truman absent.

Two more votes are needed before the tax rate and $160 million budget are formally adopted. Those are scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday and 5 p.m. Tuesday in the Council Chamber at 107 W. Juan Linn St.

Soliz said he will make three budget amendment proposals on Thursday in hopes of bringing the council together on the vote. He did not elaborate.

Hagan said he opposes plans to raise the property tax from 64.5 cents for each $100 of taxable property value to the 65 cents proposed by staff. The proposed rate is still below the effective rate of 65.21 cents, or the amount that would bring in about the same income as the previous year.

"I just feel uncomfortable with that," Hagan said. Given the weak economy, people need to keep every penny they can, he said.

Two people addressed the council during budget related public hearings.

John E. Swanson said he's reviewed the budget. He said he appreciates the tough decision the staff made in putting it together.

He said the city needs streets, sewer service and garbage collection and it would be difficult to cut those.

"Where I would do the cutting is the fire department," Swanson said. "It has grown, and it is big."

Just cutting one fire station and that crew would help save money, he said.

Matt Ocker, a candidate for county judge, also commended the staff for making budget cuts in tough times. But he said it's difficult to understand why the budget includes money for a recreational water splash pad on Airline Road near the hike-and-bike trail.

"That raises some concern for me," he said. "When you've got a whole garage full of toys you can't take care of, you don't buy another one."

Ocker said, for instance, the city doesn't have money to adequately mow ditches and is cutting funding for the library.

Mayor Pro Tem Paul Polasek said Ocker had a good point, but the city was getting a $500,000 state grant to help pay for the splash pad. The facility would also include a parking lot and restrooms that could be used by the hike-and-bike trail and splash pad users.

Polasek said if the city rejects the grant now, that might be money it will not get again.

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