The Payson Town Council Thursday balked at raising the town’s property tax rate, despite facing a tight budget with almost no reserves.
The draft of the town’s $26-million operating budget had included $68,000 that would have been produced by boosting the town’s property tax rate to the legal limit. That increase would have cost the owner of a $200,000 home about $5 annually.
However, the council voted unanimously to leave the rate of .2215 per $100 of assessed value unchanged at Thursday’s re-quired hearing on the property tax rate.
Mayor Kenny Evans said the increase would have had little impact on most homeowners, but would have sent the wrong message during a recession.
The increase “would convey a message that we’re not sensitive to the concerns of homeowners,” said Evans. “It’s good for our citizens to know we are going to be conservative in how we handle their money.”
Councilman John Wilson, on the other hand, argued that the town needed the money to withstand the impact of the recession.
“We should go for the increased amount. We need the extra money to keep our budget balanced,” he said.
The council Thursday adopted a budget for the upcoming fiscal year that will boost spending by less than 5 percent by continuing a near freeze on road building and maintenance, most salaries and most hiring. On paper, the budget included a huge overall increase to some $57 million. However, that included some $26 million in state and federal grants — most of which the town probably won’t receive.
The town’s operating budget barely changed from this year. The council spent months agonizing about budget details, from whether to include $17,000 in matching funds to attract a $350,000 grant to a controversial $50,000 cut in its contract for handling stray dogs with the Humane Society.
During the last meeting at which the council discussed boosting the tax rate to the .2458 per $100 of assessed value, only Vice Mayor Mike Vogel spoke strongly against the idea.
He argued that people could not afford any increase during hard times. He said although the town’s rate would add just $5 to the tax bill on a $200,000 home, anticipated increases by the school district, community college district and county could push the total increase in the tax bill by $50 or $100 annually.
State law limits the rate at which towns can increase both the tax rate and the total amount of money collected from property taxes. In years past, Payson councils have cut the rate by an average of 8 percent annually, but still collected more money as assessed values rose.