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Council to See Claremont Budget Plan

Claremont — City Manager Guy Santagate’s proposed $15.8 million budget adds a few positions while keeping the municipal tax rate unchanged.

“It was one of our goals, if possible, without hurting essential services,” Santagate said Wednesday.

The city portion of the current municipal property tax rate is $13.45 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

The budget will be presented to the City Council beginning Tuesday, which will be followed by several detailed budget sessions.

The spending plan represents about a 5 percent increase from the $15 million budget for the 12 months beginning last July that was part of an 18-month $22.7 million budget approved in November 2012, when the city switched its fiscal year.

In his letter to the council introducing the budget, Santagate explained that the projected tax rate impact of the bond payment for the $12.6 million Stevens High School renovation project was a factor in deciding to try to keep the tax rate flat.

“Other increases on the school’s part may follow,” Santagate wrote. “That is why I believe there should be no property tax increase related to the city portion of the taxes and I am therefore proposing a level funded (tax rate) budget.”

Though spending is up, Santagate and Finance Director Mary Walter said additional revenues and the use of money from the city’s fund balance were enough to offset that increase without raising taxes.

There are several new positions, including three firefighters and one police officer, all of which are being paid for by grants, along with a code enforcement officer, an information technology person and a part-time person for the legal department in the budget.

The budget allocates $400,000 for road paving with $150,000 of that coming from the city’s fund balance and $250,000 from the Municipal Transportation Fee capital reserve.

Mayor Jim Neilsen said that road paving is one part of the budget he wants to pay close attention to.

“I think the city has done a good job but I want to see if we are putting enough into roads and infrastructure because that is what we hear people talk a lot about,” Neilsen said Wednesday night.

Overall, Neilsen said he was pleased to hear the tax rate won’t increase, even in light of the new contracts signed with the police, fire and public works unions late last year that provide pay raises in exchange for union members paying toward health insurance.

“That fact we could net those things out, speaks well,” Neilsen said.

There were several positions, including a chief assessor and laborers for publics and parks and recreation that were not filled, Santagate said in his budget highlights to the council.

Though Santagate said the proposed budget will maintain essential city services, he told the council there is a “price” to be paid for level-funding the tax rate. Savings to capital reserve accounts, including parks and recreation and fire, of $287,000, additional paving funds of $100,000, extra money for sidewalk repairs and immediate plowing and snow removal around the schools and downtown are some of the items that will need to be put off.

On Wednesday, Santagate said city employees “are doing more with less and will have to continue doing so.”

“We are biting the bullet again and are able to level-fund the tax rate through the good hard work of our department heads and employees,” he said.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.