In a narrow vote of 3-2, the Wilmore City Council approved the first reading of the 2012-’13 fiscal year budget Monday.
After a long discussion, council members Jeff James and Lynn Cooper voted “no” while councilman Leonard Fitch abstained because he was acting as mayor pro tem in Harold Rainwater’s absence Monday night.
The proposed budget assumes the future approval of a 4-percent property-tax increase, a 4-percent water and sewer fee increase, and a Kentucky River Authority (KRA) fee increase of 4-cents per 1,000 gallons of water — or a 50-percent fee increase — by the council.
However, one raise the proposed budget does not assume is to city employee’s paychecks.
James and Cooper were united in their feelings that a 4-percent property-tax increase was unfair being that only about half of Wilmore pays “their fair share” of the cost to live in the city. Many major institutions in the city like Asbury University, Asbury Theological Seminary, Wesley Village and Thomson-Hood Veterans Center do not pay property taxes.
Two of those major institutions are made up of a revolving procession of higher-education students, which is why James and Cooper said it would be unfair to raise property taxes on everyone else.
One option the council discussed was to begin working with the university and seminary to add a fee for vehicles using Wilmore’s streets. It would be a one-time fee for residents but would generate revenue from new students each year.
Both Cooper and James said they felt the council could work to find other sources of revenue and/or ways to cut funds from other departments.
“I feel for a community our size we can find areas to cut,” Cooper said, “one of them being the parks and recreation budget.”
One positive step the city has already taken to generate revenue is by working with Municipal Revenue Solutions, LLC, Cooper said.
MRS has identified more than 200 businesses delinquent in occupational taxes owed to the city of Wilmore that may total as much as $75,000 in revenue.
In the past weeks, the council has approved to renew their contract and pursue those unpaid taxes.
Another suggestion Cooper had is the removal of Wilmore’s contribution to the school-resource-officer program that stations Nicholasville police officers in the county’s middle and high schools. Wilmore paid $10,000 into the program this year after not contributing any funds in its first three years.
Cooper said he did not feel there was any “quantifiable” research that the SRO program was a true benefit. Council member Kim Deyer did not agree.
In other ways to find revenue, there is a proposed plan to go along with the budget that would eliminate the fourth tier from Wilmore’s water-rate schedule.
The highest tier, which affects consumers using more than 10,000 gallons per month, actually has the lowest water rate of $4.62 per 1,000 gallons.
Eliminating this tier sets the rate at $5.08 for those using more than 5,000 gallons of water in a month.
The rate increase is expected to only affect a limited number of consumers, mostly the major institutions in Wilmore. It may also affect some of the larger property owners with livestock. The proposal is estimated to net the city approximately $27,000 annually.
The council is expected to pass the proposed budget at its next meeting June 18, but the question still remains — where does the city find revenue?
Council member Jim Brumfield said serious discussion will have to continue after July 1 if there is any hope to change the financial future of the city.