published Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

Cleveland, Tenn., to raise property taxes

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CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Cleveland property taxes will increase by 18.51 cents in the next fiscal year, which starts July 1.

The tax hike is primarily intended to fund the current level of city services, boost police personnel numbers and provide a 3.5 percent cost-of-living raise for city employees.

On Monday, the Cleveland City Council voted 6-1 to pass the proposed budget for fiscal year 2014, which is based on the city increasing property taxes. Councilman Charlie McKenzie cast the only opposing vote.

It's important to note that Cleveland has one of the lowest tax rates for cities with a K-12 school system in the state, said Councilman Richard Banks.

According to a city financial analysis, Cleveland comes in next to last in a comparison of 12 cities that maintain K-12 school systems, which includes Memphis, Kingsport and Johnson City. The average tax rate for those cities is $2.14 per $100 of assessed value, compared to Cleveland's current rate of $1.49 per $100 of assessed value.

This means that property that is assessed at $100,000 currently pays $418.88 in property taxes. An increase of 18.51 cents on the rate would amount to an increase of $46.28, or 12.4 percent. Cleveland has not had a property tax increase since 2005.

This tax hike will be in addition to any increase needed to offset revenue losses resulting from the recent state-mandated property appraisal. Preliminary estimates in the budget proposal place that number at 6 cents, but City Manager Janice Casteel said that number will not be finalized until later.

The Cleveland Police Department will receive 7.27 percent of the tax increase, which will fund six new police officers and retain six other officers who have been funded by grant money that expires on June 30.

Banks estimated that the police department would also receive about 2 cents of the 6 cents it will take to provide the cost-of-living raise for city employees. When taking into consideration that police overtime will be reduced by $178,000 -- or 1.78 cents of the property tax rate -- because of the new officers, law enforcement will take in about 7.5 cents of the increase.

"I think that's money well-spent to make sure people are safe in their homes," said Banks. "People want to be safe and secure in their homes, and part of that is to have a police department which is staffed to the level it needs to be, based upon the population numbers and the potential for crime moving into our area."

Almost a quarter of the 18.51 cent tax hike -- 4.5 cents -- will go toward maintaining the current level of city services, said Casteel.

City leaders pointed out that Cleveland has been running on tight budgets with cuts over the years, but that it cannot go on that way indefinitely.

"I think it's [been] cut to the bone," said Councilman David May.

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

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