WATERLOO — A budget meeting Monday yielded no progress toward reducing a proposed city property tax hike next year.
Waterloo City Council members convened for just 30 minutes in a special meeting called specifically to discuss the budget. But they spent most of the time talking about a housing incentive program that might help future spending plans.
Mayor Quentin Hart and council members are scheduled to hold a hearing March 10 on a spending plan that currently projects a 5.3 percent overall increase in city property taxes and would boost the tax rate from $17.76 to $18.43 per $1,000 of taxable value.
Several council members said after the meeting such an increase was unacceptable.
“This budget is not sustainable,” said Councilman Bruce Jacobs. “It doesn’t put us in the right direction. It doesn’t inspire economic growth or inspire folks to want to move to Waterloo. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Jacobs, who made cutting taxes the focal point of his election campaign last year, said he would not support the proposed tax rate.
“We like to compare ourselves to other cities like Dubuque when we want to get (staff) wages established, but we don’t ever want to consider their tax rate,” he said. “They’re under $12. The mayor’s proposed budget is to go over $18.
“Ultimately the council needs to provide some direction. But the department heads need to put some serious and sustainable effort into the budget, which I have not seen to this point,” Jacobs said.
Councilman Steve Schmitt said he doesn’t believe department heads have been directed to explore programs, such as cross-training police officers to act as firefighters, which have been utilized by other communities.
He said he would not accept any increase in taxes.
“I don’t think we’re taking this serious,” Schmitt said. “I think certain people are accepting that 5 percent is the best we can do. I don’t think the council’s going to agree with that.”
Hart is urging council members to put forth ideas to meet their budget goals.
“I’m trying to arm council with a lot of information,” Hart said. “I want ideas. I’m leaning on them for ideas.”
Council members were asked to present budget scenarios by Wednesday so they can be vetted and quantified before another work session next Monday. Hart said he would try to incorporate those ideas before putting out his final budget proposal a day or two later.
Roughly $608,000 of the $2.1 million tax increase in the budget published for the public hearing is due to a 27-cent levy voters approved to support the Grout Museum District.