In all, seven major items were passed by council members, including capping the city’s property tax rate at $3.64 per $100 of assessed value. The council had the authority to raise the property tax rate up to the state Legislature’s recently approved addition of 3 cents outside the cap, which would have given the council the ability to hike the tax to $3.66 per $100 of assessed value.
With Monday’s approval of the city budget recommendations, the public will have a chance to comment at a hearing at 9 a.m. May 15. The city manager and financial services director will then file the final budget with the Nevada Department of Taxation by June 1.
The only council member to ask the city for the property tax hike was Julia Ratti. Ratti, who represents Ward 1, proposed a motion to raise the property tax, which “sank like the Titanic,” according to other council members.
The police officers and code enforcement officer recruitment process started in January because of the extended length of time it usually takes to recruit an officer, City Manager Shaun Carey told council members.
“The city manager felt those were warranted positions,” city spokesman Adam Mayberry said. “Everything we do has to meet certain timelines. We are up against a clock. Our budget numbers change monthly depending upon what we receive from the state.”
Councilman Ed Lawson agreed that hiring additional officers was warranted. Sparks currently has one officer per 2,000 residents,
“You can’t expect a patrol officer to do the work of two,” Lawson said.
Each penny of increased tax rate was expected to generate an additional $189,000 of general fund revenue for the city after abatement was calculated, according to Chief Financial Officer Jeff Cronk.
Carey did not recommend raising the property tax rate.
“Property taxes — it’s all about taxes now,” Cronk said. “They peaked in 2005 when the average value of a house in Sparks was $305,000. Now, it’s $150,000. Even if we got back to a modicum of growth, it would still take 21 years to get the real values back. What we’re seeing now is a lot of volatility.”
Cronk explained to the council the history of the housing market. At this time, Cronk said, most homes selling at the $150,000 price are being purchased by investors. The city collects its property taxes quarterly — in August, October, January and March.
As far as the state’s economic index, the picture is looking better, he said.
“In Nevada, we’re finally seeing a little bit of a bounce,” Cronk said. “It’s nice that we’re actually seeing some activity. Seventy-five percent of the state’s economic engine is being driven by the south.”
However, Cronk said, visitor counts and gaming income remain flat.
Interestingly, the air traffic crisis that occurred following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, when traffic dropped off, hit a low that is now becoming the new norm.
“We’re below what happened in 2001,” Cronk said. “Consistently, we’re now below that key time there.”
Permitting in the city was up 6.9 percent last year.
Carey also proposed and the council approved filling two fire fighter positions, a part-time victim advocate position pending the loss of grant funding, a contracted plans examination services position funded within the development services fund and the approval to contract services to help city staff overhaul the city’s development ordinances.
The budget also calls for transferring $60,000 to the general fund from the development services fund to begin paying back the $1.1 million general fund subsidy paid during fiscal years 2010 and 2011.
Council members also approved reducing the Health Insurance Fund contributions and premium rates by 8 percent. This will provide $400,000 in savings for the general fund, according to the budget.
The city manager asked to commit $200,000 of business license revenue to comply with a federal fund balance requirement.
Carey also received permission to fund the creation of the “Employees Retirement Benefits Fund” as a vehicle to accumulate assets to offset post-employment benefits, such as ongoing health care for former employees as part of a retirement package.
The city manager’s projections for the fiscal year 2013 budget recommendations identify actions designed to meet the council’s policy of maintaining a minimum ending fund balance equal to 8.3 percent of total expenditures, according to the budget report.
Looking ahead to fiscal year 2014, the city identifies a shortfall of some $3.1 million, assuming revenues remain flat. In anticipation, Carey sought authority to launch a second round of the Sparks Sustainable Services Initiative to prioritize core city services in order to put the city government on realistic a fiscal path in line with revenues.
In its last item regarding the Consolidated Tax Revenue, made up mostly of sales tax, the city’s CTAX proceeds totaled some $1.58 million that remained unspent mainly because the city did not proceed with a full design of the City Hall complex previously considered for Victorian Square.
The budget asked the council members to approve the C Street parking garage phase 2 repairs at a cost of $600,000; City Hall electrical upgrades at a cost of $900,000 to $1 million; and Victorian Square plaza enhancements at a cost of $2.53 million.