PDT Staff Writer
Portsmouth City Council gave first reading to the proposed 2014 City Tax Budget Monday night. That budget shows, for example, the city’s General Fund going from $12 million in 2013 to $12.2 million in 2014, and most other funds staying the same from year to year.
“As you look through here, one thing is clear — revenues are clearly stagnant from one year to the next, some decreasing, like property taxes,” Portsmouth City Auditor Trent Williams said. “It does show that we’re trying to take care of things, like building maintenance, improvements. Our debt listing shows that we’re in very good debt position — that we only have one outstanding bond, there’s $1.4 million left on that. That’s very low as far as the city’s outstanding debt. But one thing I would urge any of you that come in contact with your state representatives, our General Fund revenue should be closer to $13 million instead of $12.2 million. And that’s because of local government funding being cut over the last couple of years.”
Williams said anyone with influence with state representatives should attempt to get them to restore local government funding.
“I would urge you to make those phone calls and try to get the legislature to give the local governments their money back to them, instead of using it to build surpluses in the state budget,” Williams said.
Council President Steve Sturgill asked Williams to compare the new budget to the old one.
“As I went through this, the General Fund is the one that gets all the attention,” Sturgill said. “You’ve got a revenue there of $12.2 million. Can you remember what our budget was this year? Does that come in line with our expenditures for the year?”
Williams said the expenditures are in line with the revenue, but he added, “Remember, we started out $500,000 in the hole. Had we started out with a zero balance, then we would have a $900,000 end of year balance this year, but we’re having to make that up in one year. And that brings us to zero with the $12.2 million revenue.”
Sturgill said conviction is needed with the budget.
“I think it’s pretty clear that this Council is concerned that if we do present a balanced budget, that it needs to be balanced, and we plan to adhere to it,” Sturgill said. “We will have many conversations about it between now and January. But we can’t continue to bet on checks we’re counting on. We can’t do that. We have to find a way to do that.”
On top of the loss of the local government funds, the city has also lost the revenue previously derived from the Estate Tax.
“There could be some money that trickles in on cases that haven’t been settled,” Williams said.
Sturgill gave an exact figure on the tax’s decline.
“Since 2011 we’ve lost some $1 million in Estate Tax money,” Sturgill said.
Council discussed the lack of impact the recent Income Tax increase has had on the budget, since it was offset by the losses of those two revenue streams.
“Our new tax generates about $2.4 million a year, but if you subtract what we’re losing from those two revenues, you don’t net very much,” Williams said.
Council also discussed changing over to a Usage Tax, which they said would tax people coming into town from outside of the city, but they could not figure out how to collect such a tax. As it stands now, people who live outside of the city still pay city Income Tax.
Passing the resolution was passed up to allow the regular three readings, giving citizens a chance to look at the budget and comment on it before it’s passage.
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. For breaking news, follow Frank on Twitter @FrankLewisPDT.