Note: Mayoral Notes did not reach us in time for today’s issue so we are posting here.
By Mayor Charlene Lovett
Developing a municipal budget, especially in a pandemic year, is challenging given the number of unknowns. According to our charter, City Manager Morris must present a proposed budget to the Council no later than May 2nd. Because this deadline falls before the finalization of the state’s budget, state revenues are estimates only and municipal expenses for the current budget are not yet complete. Add to this the revenue shortfalls and increased expenses, unique to COVID-19, and the process becomes a bit more complex.
It is why the City Council, on February 24, provided the City Manager with some guidance for his budget proposal for Fiscal Year (FY) 22. The guidance reflects the Council’s priority areas for this year which are housing, economic development, infrastructure improvements and tax rate stabilization. Here are some of the highlights of that discussion:
–Keep the municipal tax rate level funded. Knowing that the median household income for Claremont is approximately $48,000, the ability of local property owners to absorb increases in property taxes is limited.
–Try to allocate $750,000 for road improvements. This is a difficult task as the City’s investment in roads and other infrastructure improvements has been sporadic from year to year to avoid tax increases. There have been years when zero dollars were allocated to roads, relying on bonds and grants to address some of the most pressing needs.
–Increase grant funding. If raising revenue through property tax increases is not the direction that the Council wants to take, then other revenue sources must be better leveraged. One of those sources is grant funding. However, applying for those funds is often labor intensive, and there is no guarantee that the work invested in submitting applications will result in grants being awarded. To achieve an increase in grant funding, the Council offered several suggestions to include a dedicated staff writer or contracted services.
–Protect housing stock/values through code enforcement. In recent years, the city has focused on addressing neighborhood blight and those efforts continue to increase. With housing a top priority for the current Council, ensuring the gains made to address blight continue. The Council asked the City Manager to ensure that his proposed budget includes a Planning and Economic Development Department staff sufficient to enforce building and health codes that protect housing stock/value and public health.
Given the unknowns coming into this budget season, the good news is that the American Rescue Plan will provide direct funding to municipalities. Though the House version of the plan projected higher numbers, the final version allocates $1.28M to Claremont. This will offset lost revenue, enabling the city to focus on building a budget that addresses Council priorities without increasing the municipal tax rate.
Charlene Lovett is the Mayor of Claremont and welcomes your feedback. Please send questions, comments or concerns to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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