Waterloo considers 7.27% Property Tax Hike - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Waterloo considers 7.27% Property Tax Hike

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WATERLOO (KWWL) -- Will homeowners in Waterloo pay 7.27% more in property taxes next year? That's the number city leaders are considering as they work to balance the 2012 budget. It's just a starting figure, one that Mayor Buck Clark believes is higher than residents will actually pay. But the city will likely have to make significant cuts to its services.

They're looking at everything from closing certain city departments one day a week, to laying off employees. Homeowners we talked with said they'd rather see cuts than pay more in taxes -- but they agree, there's not much left to cut.

"If it goes up seven percent, I'll be moving out of Waterloo. I'll be out of Black Hawk County," said Doug Atchison. "It's just too much to pay."

"That's not good. Especially when you're older and on a fixed income like I am," said Janet Walters.

City Council members had folks like Atchison and Walters in mind when they received the initial budget report on Monday.

"This 7 1/2% is no where near what I thought we'd be," said Councilman Steve Schmitt. "I thought we'd be 4, 5% to start, and go down from there. I never thought we'd be this high. So yeah, it's a rude awakening."

The challenge is, city departments are already working on a tight budget. The reason for the 2012 increase comes down to obligations. $855,460 in state-mandated pension contributions, another $917,107 in increased employee benefits, and $699,993 in union wages.

"We asked the mayor to go to the unions to see if they will re-open contracts, which we tried to do last year without much success. But something's going to have to give. Because I just don't think there's any way we can have this kind of a rate increase," said Schmitt.

Finding other places to trim will require city leaders to go line-by-line through each department's budget, and make tough decisions. He said a potential way to raise money is to sell some of the property owned by the city. Another option is to combine, or even privatize, some of the city's services. Schmitt does not think an across-the-board cut is the answer.

"We're all doing more with less in the private sector, and I think we need to do that in the public sector as well."

It's a job most people don't envy.

"We need everything!" Walters said.

But trust the city council to accomplish.

The 2012 budget hearing is set for March 7th. Schmitt is hoping to hold several public meetings between now and then, and is encouraging anyone with ideas to attend these discussions.

Online Reporter Colleen O'Shaughnessy

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