Projecting an increase in property and sales tax revenue for next year, Covington Mayor Mike Cooper has proposed a 2015 budget that is $1.2 million bigger than the 2014 version.
Cooper’s budget forecasts a nearly 5 percent increase in sales tax collections and a 6.5 percent increase in property tax collections for 2015, lifting the total budget to $22.1 million.
The proposal includes cost-of-living raises for every city employee and a pot of money for each supervisor to use for merit raises for certain employees.
The budget even projects that the city’s surplus account, called the unassigned general fund, will increase by $234 in 2015, a far cry from this year’s budget, which anticipated a $440,795 reduction in the fund balance.
The budget provides for the creation of two new positions: a purchasing agent to streamline the city’s purchasing procedures and a public works employee to help keep up with maintenance of the city’s streets.
The budget formalizes the elimination of one high-ranking police position: After both of the department’s captains retired last year, Chief Tim Lentz created a deputy chief position and will not fill the second captain’s position. Douglas Arrowood was promoted to deputy chief on Aug. 16.
The 2015 budget allots $472,320 for recreation. Covington is the only municipality in St. Tammany Parish that operates its own recreation department. In May, voters rejected a proposal to create a recreation district including Covington, despite strong support from Cooper and the City Council. That district would have had a separate tax millage, freeing up about $500,000 a year in city funds.
Cooper also suggests considering reallocation of 1 cent of the sales tax, which by law is split among capital projects, recreation, downtown development and the Police Department. Rededicating the tax — which would need approval by the voters — would allow the city to be more flexible with how it spends its revenue, Cooper said.
“What was good in 1982 (when the tax was approved) might not be good now,” he said. “We get the same amount of money whether we divide it like that or not.”
Cooper attributed the rise in tax revenue to new businesses and the city’s vibrant restaurant and shopping scene.
“We always have a lot of people coming into the city,” he said.
The City Council will hold budget workshops on Oct. 14, 22 and 29. It will adopt the 2015 budget, perhaps slightly modified from Cooper’s proposals, on Nov. 18.
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.