CORINTH — City Council members voted 3-2 to raise the Corinth’s property tax rate to pay for two additional traffic officer positions to be included into the city’s budget.
Council members Thursday adopted the tax rate and a $14 million budget, which included 3 percent to 4.25 percent raises for eligible police officers and firefighters.
Council members voted to raise the tax rate to the effective rate of 60.489 cents per $100 valuation, which will generate about $88,000 to help pay for the two additional police officer positions.
The City Council had the option to raise the tax rate after it made preparations earlier this year, following the Lake Dallas and Hickory Creek councils’ threat to end their fire services contracts with Corinth. Three municipalities and Shady Shores share the fire department’s operating costs.
In August, Corinth officials approved an option to raise the tax rate to fund the fire department, if needed.
Since then, Lake Dallas and Hickory Creek have both renewed their contracts with Corinth. However, Corinth still retained the option and latitude to raise the tax rate.
The decision to raise the tax rate and to hire the extra officers was heavily debated.
Council member Joe Harrison opposed the additional staffing because the city lacked the revenue to fund the positions without having to raise taxes. He said the city was already forced to depend on city savings to fund capital improvement projects and to balance the budget.
“I cannot support this. I don’t believe increasing the tax in the future commitment is a proper way to run the city of Corinth,” Harrison said.
Council member Bruce Hanson said it was necessary to add the positions because traffic patrol is a need that is not being met throughout the city.
“The only way to respond to demands of the city is to bring on additional people,” Hanson said. “This isn’t a question of dollars and cents; it’s a question of the service levels the city expects from us.”
However, council members who opposed adding staff expressed that each city department could use more employees, and approving the two traffic officers could open the door for more staffing requests.
The actual cost for the traffic officers for the entire year is about $144,000, including wages and benefits. Officials said the officers won’t start until early spring, so only about half of the $144,000 will be needed for the coming fiscal year.
Council members Randy Gibbons, Lowell Johnson and Hanson were in favor of adding the officers. Before Thursday night’s council meeting began, Johnson left after he received an emergency call from his job.
In Johnson’s absence, the council originally voted three to two, with Mayor Paul Ruggiere casting the tie-breaking vote in favor of not adding $144,000 for two police officer positions into the city’s budget.
Four hours later, Johnson returned to the meeting and Gibbons called for a second vote, making a slight change to the original motion. Instead of requesting $144,000 for the positions, Gibbons added an additional $1,000 to the cost.
“I see a need. It’s more than a perceived need. Based on the data given to me, there is a need there,” he said.
The vote passed three to two with Gibbons, Johnson and Hanson in favor and council members Jim Mayfield and Harrison opposed.
“In our budgeting, city councils are responsible for the health, safety and welfare of those living in a municipality,” Johnson said.
Adding the new positions forced council members to raise the tax rate or risk dependence on the fund balance to fund the positions each year.
Ruggiere said he opposes departments lobbying for additional staff when budgets are lean.
He said the city has had to dig itself out of a financial hole during tough economic times, and he does not support adding staff or services without having means to fund each.
“I have to assume what has transpired here is a blip and not a trend,” he said. “I do not anticipate being lobbied by staff for additional staff in the future.”
JOHN D. HARDEN can be reached at 940-566-6882. His e-mail address is email@example.com.