Council seeks creative way to balance budget
Increased property valuations throughout the city will result in a lower mill levy for DeSoto residents next year.
The city's total assessed valuation for the year was $30,108,486, up 10 percent from last year. As a result of the increase, the city's mill levy will be reduced from 25.7 this year to 23.01 next year.
According to state regulations, the city could levy more than 23.01 mills next year if officials decided to pass an ordinance to that effect. The rate of 23.01 mills was approved by the state based on a formula that takes into account how much money the city budgeted last year and how much extra money the city would receive due to increased valuations. If council members needed more money next year, they would have the authority to raise the levy.
City Administrator Gerald Cooper prepared a preliminary budget using the lower rate and it was tentatively approved by the council at a July 18 budget workshop.
Cooper told council members the budget would be tight, particularly if the Wonderful World of Oz Theme Park and Resort was approved in the fall. Cooper included several items in the budget which would be contingent upon the Oz project moving forward.
"I called these items Oz factor predictions," he said. "They're things we would need if the project is approved."
Included in the Oz items was a full-time receptionist for the city clerk's office. Cooper said the city was already receiving a high number of phone calls regarding the Oz project. City Clerk Lana McPherson agreed.
"We get calls all the time now from people asking what we know about Oz and how they can apply for jobs there," she said. "And I know that's just going to get worse as time goes by."
Also included in the contingency items was a 100 percent increase in the city engineer's salary. The city currently has a part-time engineer. If the project is approved, Cooper said, the city would need to hire someone full time.
If all of the Oz contingency money is spent, the budget would have very little "cushion room," Cooper said.
"I hate to see us go without a cushion, but if you guys don't want to raise the mill levy, we'll work it out the best we can," he said.
Council President Duke Neeland said he did not like the idea of increasing the mill levy during a year when assessed valuations rose by an average of 10 percent.
"I think when you have an increase in property values, people expect the mill levy to roll back," he said.
The council will hold a budget hearing at 7:30 p.m., Aug. 17. The public is invited to comment on the budget at that time.