City Council OKs $55M budget for ’13

Property tax could provide $1.1 million

The Durango City Council on Tuesday kept a property-tax rate in place since 1983 while approving a $55 million operating budget for 2013 that grows spending by 1 percent this year.

Consumers, however, can expect new or increased fees totalling about $15 a month to pay for expenses related to sewer improvements, recycling and a franchise fee for the La Plata Electric Association.

In addition, the city is expected to hold public hearings in January on whether to double on-street parking fees downtown to a composite rate of 85 cents an hour.

The 5-0 vote by councilors to approve the budget and retain a mill levy of 2.507 mills was the culmination of six months of work by city staff members.

About 55 percent of the city’s general fund comes from city sales taxes. The remaining 45 percent come from an assortment of different fees and taxes, such as the LPEA franchise fee, expected to generate $800,000, and the property tax, expected to bring in another $1.1 million.

Councilor Sweetie Marbury thanked staff members for keeping the property tax “low.”

“At $70, it’s a heck of a deal for anyone who lives in the city (and owns property),” she said.

The $70 cited by Marbury is based on the amount of property taxes that a resident with a house valued at $350,000 would pay. Residential property is taxed at 7.96 percent of the total value, which would be $27,860 for a $350,000 home. This is then multiplied by the mill levy to get the $70 figure, said Julie Brown, the city finance director.

As for expenses, the city is setting aside about $700,000 for merit-based salary and benefit increases next year. The city employs 297 full-time workers.

Brown said pay increases would be “based on their evaluations. We have not determined what the percentage increases will be.”

City employees also got 2 percent, across-the-board increase in salary in July 2011 and then merit increases and salary-survey based increases in 2012.

During the recession years of 2009 and 2010, salaries were frozen, and employees had to take four furlough days. The city also laid off 37 workers.

The City Council is scheduled to evaluate its top executives, City Manager Ron LeBlanc, City Attorney David Smith as well as Municipal Judges Diane Knutson and James Casey, during a closed session at its meeting next week.