We heard you

We heard you. You asked City Council Members and me to take action to help keep down the increase in your property taxes next year — and this week, we took the first step. Now I’m asking for your help in making sure we get it done all the way.

On Wednesday, the City Council’s Ways and Means Committee approved a package that Ways and Means Chair Betsy Hodges, Council President Barbara Johnson and I proposed to cut the City’s portion of next year’s property-tax increase from the 7.5% that was reflected on the Truth in Taxation Statements that you received last month down to 4.7%.

We took some short-term and some longer-term actions to keep down increases in taxes. In the short term, we cut an additional $6.1 million out of next year’s budget, primarily by cutting or delaying debt payments or payments to other levels of government. But because some of those cuts will reap only one-time savings that won’t help us next year, we also took some cost-saving measures that are intended to help save taxpayers money in 2012, 2013 and beyond: we are budgeting for no wage increases for City employees for two years, and we capped non-personnel spending in the old Neighborhood Revitalization Program while assuring funding for ongoing neighborhood programs.

Even with these cuts, most residents’ taxes will still go up next year, in some cases by wide margins. This is because many of the factors that are influencing how much you will pay next year — skyrocketing obligations to closed pension funds that the City does not control, tens of millions in State cuts to Local Government Aid, the balance between commercial and residential property values, and the recertification of a special taxing district, not to mention the state of the economy — are out of the City’s direct control.

Even so, we heard you when you told us that we needed to try everything we could to find savings, cut the tax increase and ask everyone to share some sacrifice.

We take spending your money very seriously and we’ve worked to restore and maintain fiscal responsibility at the City. Over the last nine years, we have:

  • Delivered structurally balanced budgets that have matched spending to revenue not just one year at a time, but five years out;
  • Paid down $130 million in debt;
  • Restored the City’s top AAA credit rating with all three national ratings agencies;
  • Reduced the size of government — after adjusting for inflation, we will spend 7% less in 2011 than the City spent 10 years ago and will have 1,000 fewer full-time positions than it did 10 years ago.

Your advice and guidance through this period has been invaluable, and we have listened to every word you’ve had to say. Now I’m asking for your help again.

The City Council will vote next Monday evening on this reduction package when it votes to approve the entire budget. I encourage you to contact your Council Member to let him or her know where you stand on these choices and support our efforts to limit the increase in property taxes. Or just come and comment in person at the Council meeting starting at 6:00 pm Monday in City Hall.

Thank you again for your partnership.

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