Tuesday, January 24, 2012

TOP STORY >> Austin is seeking vote on sales tax

Leader staff writer

The Austin City Council on Monday passed a $1.4 million budget and decided to ask voters for a one-cent sales tax to generate $1.2 million that would help fix roads.

Mayor Bernie Chamberlain told aldermen that Crew and Associates said the city needed the tax before it could issue bonds for the loan. The sales tax could have been put on the November ballot, but the council voted to look into having a special election for it.

“The problem I have waiting until November is I want some of these roads done now. I hate sales tax. I hate ’em. But I can’t do anything about (the bank’s requirement),” Chamberlain explained.

Sales taxes are collected on residents’ water, sewer and cell phone bills and other items, she said.

Alderman Matt Sheets said, “I think the No. 1 thing I hear is ‘fix the streets.’”

Alderman Rusty Eisenhower agreed, saying he’d had about 40 calls to complain about roads.

One of the projects the sales tax would help get under way is the widening of Austin’s section of Old Austin Road to 22 feet and replacing culverts on several streets that flood when it rains, Chamberlain said.

A resident told the council, “Whet their (voters’) appetite. Lay it right out there for them and they’ll get behind (the sales tax).”

The council also approved the city’s 2012 budget.

Last month, Chamberlain told The Leader that the city planned to use $65,000 from the general fund in the 2012 budget for street improvements.

The council decided to let that money be until the voters say yes or no to the sales tax increase.

The $65,000 could come from the $200,000 carryover the city has from last year’s budget.

Projected revenues for 2012 are $1.4 million. That is up about $500,000 from last year’s $894,650.

Chamberlain said the increase is the result of the city’s growth in population, from 600 in 2000 to 2,038 now.

Expenses are expected to be about $1.2 million.

The water and sewer budget, which separated from the city’s general fund budget, is $1.2 million.

Expenses for that budget are projected to be about $1.5 million.

Some of the major changes to Austin’s budget involve salaries and pay for city employees.

Alderman this month began receiving $150 per monthly meeting attended.

Chamberlain explained that she wants to motivate the council to meet quorum every month and this was a way to do that.

Only one council member was absent at Monday’s meeting.

Previously, aldermen had not been paid for their services.

The city is also giving merit raises, in addition to cost-of-living adjustments, to its employees who have worked there for several years.

Department directors, who have been paid on an hourly basis in the past, will now be paid salaries.

Those salaries are $896.45 per week for public works director John Ryan, $730.01 per week for police chief John Staley and $600 for city office manager Randy McKenzie.

The raises for the five workers who received merit raises range from $1.03 to 26 cents more per hour.

Chamberlain also received a merit raise of $500 per month. She was being paid $1,243. Her new salary is $1,805 per month and that includes a cost-of-living adjustment.

Full-time employees got a one-time bonus of $150 and part-time employees got a $50 one-time bonus.

Those who have worked for the city less than a year will get a cost-of-living adjustment raise on their one-year anniversary.

The budget also includes:

Hiring a part-time office person to accept water and fine payments

Doubling payments of $398 toward a police car

Hiring a probation officer and part-time clerk for the police department

Aside from the $65,000, the only other change from the preliminary budget is that the city will not double up payments of $1,363 toward the new city hall building.