WATERLOO — The threat of widespread disease loomed large as city leaders adopted a budget for the coming year.
Waterloo City Council members voted 5-2 Thursday to approve a budget that maintains city service levels but boosts overall property tax collections by 4.1% in the fiscal year starting July 1.
They voted before a roomful of empty chairs as the public heeded calls to avoid community gatherings to prevent the COVID-19 spread. Four of the seven council members participated via teleconference for the same reason.
A key point of concern was the decision to spend $750,000 of the city’s $10 million in cash reserves to prevent an even larger tax increase.
“This is the most we’ve use in years,” said Mayor Quentin Hart. “But when you take a look at what’s currently taking place in the city — the fact that businesses and other operations are under some stress — it’s part of the decision to use the amount that’s there.”
Several council members were uneasy about spending the reserves given the threat of unexpected expenses due to the coronavirus pandemic. It could potentially boost overtime costs if many critical employees are sick or quarantined at once, for example.
“If we can minimize the amount we take out of this fund this year, because tomorrow we could be facing a huge bill and it’s out of our control,” said Councilman Dave Boesen.
Councilman Pat Morrissey voted against the budget after his proposal to hire more positions and boost funding in certain departments failed. His amendment would have offset those increases by raising fees and using even more of the cash reserves.
Councilwoman Margaret Klein voted against the budget after saying none of the proposals from the mayor or council members showed “leadership” and lacked courage given the economic hardship facing home and business owners.
“I think it is fundamentally immoral to raise your taxes in this time of fear and uncertainty,” Klein said. “It’s sort of like kicking you when you’re down as low as you can go.”
That drew a rebuke from Councilman Jonathan Grieder, who said Klein never presented her own budget.
“It is unconscionable that one of the members of this council during a global pandemic … did not offer any, any budgetary advice, did not come up with their own budget, did not talk to other council members about their budgets,” he said.
“It is sickening to me that we are having to listen to a campaign speech during a budget during global pandemic,” Grieder added. “That is unconscionable.”
The adopted budget raises overall city property tax collection by $1.8 million, or 4.1%, due largely to increases in personnel costs, property insurance, emergency dispatch costs and several lost revenue sources.
The city’s share of the property tax rate will increase from $17.55 to $18.44 per $1,000 of value for property tax bills payable staring in the fall.
A state “rollback” order on residential properties will push the lion’s share of the tax increase away from homeowners and onto commercial and industrial property. The city’s share of a residential property tax bill will grow by 1.7%, while a business will see a 5.1% tax hike.
The city accounts for roughly 42% of the overall tax bill, while schools, the county and several smaller taxing bodies set their own levies.
Staff Tim Jamison’s most memorable 2019 stories:
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