BAKER — Despite talk of possibly seeking to raise taxes, the Baker City Council agreed Tuesday to retain the same rate for sales and use, insurance license, occupational license, chain store license, alcoholic beverage and property taxes for 2015.
City sales and use taxes will remain at 2 percent and property taxes will be 6.22 mills.
Nevertheless, the state of the city’s finances was the subject of dispute at the meeting.
Council member Joyce Burges told the council that auditing firm Postlethwaite and Netterville has completed the city’s audit for 2014 and submitted it to the state legislative auditor.
“The city is doing better than breaking even. It is not as bad as it may have appeared,” she said.
Burges declined to give specific figures, saying that Postlethwaite and Netterville would present the full report after it is accepted by the legislative auditor, possibly at the next council meeting.
She added that the council was brainstorming ways to increase revenue for the city, including seeking to raise property taxes or add a half cent sales tax. She stressed that tax increases were only being considered and that the council needs to talk to city attorney Ken Fabre and the assessor’s office before deciding whether to move forward.
After the meeting, Mayor Harold Rideau clarified that, even if the council decides to try to raise taxes, the process would probably take at least a year and would require a vote of the people.
“I won’t consider an increase in property or sales taxes. I’m opposed to it because it’s going to kill economic development in this city,” council member Pete Heine said.
Heine questioned whether the city has enough money in the budget to meet the requirements to retain its favorable fire rating as well as keep up public safety and other city services.
“I can’t believe from what I’ve seen that (the money) is there,” he said.
“I don’t see what (Burges) sees and I’m the mayor,” Rideau said. “Maybe I’m missing something.”
“We’re all concerned about (the fire rating),” Burges said.
“You may talk that way, but you didn’t vote that way,” Heine said, referring to Burges’ vote against a proposed increase in utility rates at the last council meeting.
Heine cast the lone vote in favor of the rate increase and argued at the time that the money is necessary to keep the city afloat.
Council member Charles Vincent said he also met with Postlethwaite and Netterville and found out the city operated in the black during 2014.
The city will be fine as long as business continues to grow, Vincent said. He cited the addition of new stores in Baker such as the Pizza Hut and Fred’s Super Dollar on La. 19 that he said will bring in new sales tax revenue.