published Sunday, June 9th, 2013

Cleveland tax increase up for vote Monday

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CLEVELAND, Tenn. — An 18.51 cent property tax increase for Cleveland is on the table in the city's proposed 2014 budget, which provides for more police officers and a cost-of-living raise for city employees.

On Monday, the City Council will vote on final passage of the budget during its 3 p.m. meeting at the Cleveland Municipal Building.

The tax increase will be in addition to an estimated 6 cent increase from a state-mandated property reappraisal. That increase is intended to prevent loss of revenue because of the reappraisal.

If the budget is passed, the certified city property tax rate is estimated to be $1.7351 per $100 of assessed value. Cleveland has not had a property tax increase since 2005.

The tax hike will be needed "for operations to maintain the current level of services being provided to our citizens and to pay the debt service for capital projects," City Manager Janice Casteel said in a notice to the Cleveland City Council.

About one-third of the increase will go toward a 3.5 percent raise for city employees.

Law enforcement will receive 7.27 cents of the tax increase to pay six new police officers and retain six others who have been funded through a grant that expires June 30.

"Today you are at 1999 staffing levels," Cleveland Police Chief Wes Snyder recently told the City Council. "What you have working the street today is the same that you had in 1999 as far as certified gun-carrying police officers."

The department has 84 sworn officers, but that number was as high as 92 in 2006, Snyder said.

The additional officers would allow the department to save on overtime costs, Casteel said.

The proposed budget includes two additional firefighters and a property maintenance official for the Development and Engineering Department.

The council also will review a Bradley County Commission proposal to reduce expenses for its animal control contract with the city.

The commission recently voted 9-3 — with commissioners Jeff Yarber, Jeff Morelock and Brian Smith opposing — to eliminate animal pickup services outside the city and to base the county's portion of the animal control budget on audited numbers as opposed to projected figures.

If the City Council accepts the proposal, it will affect both city and county budgets.

Preliminary estimates place animal control expenses for the county at $168,000 if the city accepts the county's terms. The city originally had requested $355,000 under the current agreement, which expires June 30. The county paid $325,000 for animal control in FY2013.

In other business, the city has asked that the county consider providing funding for operations at the Cleveland Regional Jetport "because of the additional benefit for industrial recruitment," Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland said in a letter to county leaders.

The funds would come from revenue growth related to personal property taxes on aircraft and leasehold property tax at the jetport, which is expected to exceed similar county revenues previously generated at Hardwick Field. The request calls for the county to contribute revenues generated in excess of those normally collected at the old airfield.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com.

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