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(Neb)-Chadron Council Passes Budget, Fees, Tax Levy

By: John Axtell Posted at: 09/06/2017 08:42 AM
CHADRON -  The Chadron City Council last night took final action on the budget, city fees, and property tax levy for the fiscal year that begins October 1st but not until after lengthy discussion on some aspects.

    The overall budget of $18.1-million dollars is likely much more than the city will actually spend as it covers all the city's funds including reserves, sewer and water operations, and capital projects that would move forward only if additional outside funding comes in. The general fund, which covers the normal day-to-day operations, is $4.9-million.

      One area that triggered a lot of discussion was employee pay, which will go up over $30,000 for members of the Chadron City Employees Association and $50,000 for those in the police department, who have their own union.

     In recent years, Chadron has used a "3-legged stool" approach in calculating raises up to a maximum of 4.5% for the most-senior employees.

      A comparability study of wages in similar sized cities helps set the basic range, then each worker is evaluated for a merit raise with no raise for an "unsatisfactory" rating and 3% for "superior." The third leg is a longevity increase of a quarter of a percent for newer workers to 1.5% for the most senior based on receiving at least "meets expectations" in their evaluation.

     Councilman Mark Werner wants to tweak the formula, saying city pay raises have exceeded inflation in recent years with even workers evaluated as "needs improvement" getting a 1% increase plus longevity. Among his proposals is no raise for anything less than "meets expectations."

      More than a dozen employees attended the council meeting, led by Association president Andy Gooder. Several spoke and called on the council members not to change the formula, which they said directly influence and contribute to workers taking pride in their job performance.

       Also cited was the fact the approach was developed by a committee consisting of the city manager, employees and community members rather than by the city council acting alone. In the end, the council members decided to work on Werner's concerns over the next year for possible changes in the Fiscal 2019 budget.

      Property owners in Chadron will pay a property tax rate of 42.25-cents per hundred dollars of assessed value to the city next year, the same rate as this year, under the levy approved last night. The total levy tops a million dollars for the first time at $1-million, 25-thousand.

       Total valuation in the city has increased about $26-million dollars over the past year, a combination of periodic reassessments done in a part of Dawes County each year and new construction such as the Holiday Inn Express hotel. Keeping the tax rate the same means the city will take more than $90,000 in additional revenue.

      Local rancher Casey Schuhmacher urged the council to send a message to the Legislature and landowners by collecting only the same amount as last year, which would set the rate at about 38-cents per hundred.

      Schuhmacher said the Legislature proved unwilling to address property tax reform this year and that local leadership statewide was needed to continue pushing for changes to property taxes...which he said were the 5th-highest in the country.

      He called on the council to listen to him and the people and be leaders, leading councilman Mark Werner to say the council always listens, it just doesn't always agree with the positions or ideas brought to it.

      Councilman George Klein, who cast the only vote two weeks against keeping the tax rate the same and the only no vote last night on setting the levy, said the move means about a $100 increase in property taxes for most Chadron homeowners.

      The council unanimously approved the city's fee ordinance, covering fees and utility rates. Most are unchanged, but water rates will go up about 8%.

       The preliminary version of the ordinance called for a major increase in the rate paid by the Ridgeview Country Club, which uses untreated city water for irrigation at a rate much lower than other customers, but the council two weeks ago agreed to apply the same roughly 8% increase this year while forming a committee with the club to try to find a compromise for bigger hikes in the future.

      Last night, before passing the overall ordinance, the council amended the separate ordinance for the golf course rates...replacing language that includes requiring any rate hikes to be proportional to those for all other customers with a simple statement that rates would be set in the fee ordinance.

     Club president Steve Behrends told the council his board still saw no need for the change, but wasn't fighting it. Mayor John Coates said the committee looking into the water rate issue, 3 members from each side, is starting its work.

     Also drawing discussion was the part of the fee structure for the Chadron Area Aquatics and Wellness Center for outside instructors who would use the pool for classes and activities, none of whom have come forward yet. That led to the suggestion of dropping it from $20 to $10 while clarifying when and where in the center such instructors could operate.

     That led into a renewal of last year's debate over how much the Chadron Sharks swim team should be charged for taking over part of the pool for practices for about 6 hours a week between Sept and March. Each team member must have a pool pass and coach Barb McCartney also pays the $20 instructor fee.

     McCartney and team supporters again asked about reducing or eliminating the fees, pointing out the benefits to the community of the Sharks program, but in the end the council made the same basic decision it did with the golf course - continuing meeting with the swimmers on possible changes a year from now.


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