ZACHARY — The City Council decided Wednesday not to raise property taxes for this year, but the members and Mayor David Amrhein discussed the need to raise new revenues.
The council voted unanimously to again levy a 3.17-mill property tax for 2015 after earlier discussing the possibility of raising the millage to as much as 5.79 mills, the maximum allowed by law without voter approval.
The tax, which is not covered by homestead exemption, has been set at 3.17 mills since 2000, when it was lowered from 3.29 mills.
Amrhein said the property tax generates about $500,000 annually, but commercial interests pay more than half of that amount.
Council members said the amount of money the proposed increase would generate would not be enough to address the city’s needs.
Councilman Ben Cavin, who said he had gotten “some nasty emails and phone calls” after a possible property tax increase was raised, said the extra money would be “a drop in the bucket for what we need.”
Councilwoman Laura O’Brien said that even at the maximum millage allowed by law, 5.79 mills, the city would not have enough new money. She said she and other council members will hold forums in the coming year to discuss Zachary’s financial situation.
Audience members were given a document showing that Zachary’s property tax pales in comparison with what city residents pay the Zachary Community School Board, 79.2 mills, and East Baton Rouge Parish taxing bodies, 49.128 mills. Some residents also pay 2.52 mills in property taxes to a special Comite River Diversion District.
Amrhein said the city, as it grows to the east and west, needs a new fire station, a new police station, a replacement for the City Hall and other improvements to keep serving the city’s residents.
“You’re about maxed out in what we’ll get in sales taxes,” the mayor said, adding that he hopes to present a comprehensive construction and financing plan before asking residents to vote on a property tax increase.
“We’ll put a package together and see if it passes. We’ll try to show that we’ve been good stewards of your money,” he said.
Councilman Brandon Noel said sales tax collections have been growing, but the rate of growth is slowing. At the same time, expenses beyond the city’s control, such as retirement costs, have grown rapidly.
Several members of the audience agreed that the city needs new revenue, and one of them, Diane Westmoreland, asked if officials thought voters would approve a sales tax increase.
“No,” Amrhein said, pointing to the defeat earlier this year of a School Board tax hike proposal.
Monique Smith, a hair salon owner, said she understands the city’s needs, but she urged the council to consider the effect a property tax increase has on people who own, rather than lease, commercial property.
Smith said she would be forced to move to a strip mall instead of a converted home in the city’s historic district if property taxes are raised.