Monroe considers levy lid lift measure on property taxes

MONROE — The City Council is exploring an idea to support local parks and other city aspects through a levy lid lift, which would require a ballot measure to increase property taxes by above 1%.
It continued the conversation after press time at its July 9 council meeting.
According to City Administrator Deborah Knight, the city will present more information on park maintenance and public safety as potential expenditures that could be covered by a levy lid lift and will seek direction from the council on their interest in a voter-approved levy lid lift.
The targeted uses of money from a lid lift could be park care, as well as funding toward a Community Service Officer position in the Police Department, city finance director Becky Hasart said at the June 18 council meeting.
The biggest need for the city’s parks is maintenance staff to ensure the spaces are enjoyable for residents, according to Mike Farrell, the city’s parks director.
“Like many cities, Monroe’s operating budget was impacted by the 2008-09 ‘Great Recession,’ resulting in a reduction of maintenance staff from eight to six workers,” Farrell said.
Farrell, who has been the parks director since 2006, believes from his experience and observations that the community highly values the park system.
“It’s a quality of life issue —the parks and their upkeep,” he said. Community surveys “reflect strong support for quality parks.”
Park care has been “stretched thin due to deferred maintenance and an increase in park spaces, trails, courts, fields and special events to support, the Parks and Rec’s operations are strained,” Farrell added.
“Many of our parks are over 30 years old and have aging, failing equipment and irrigation systems in need of immediate repair,” Farrell said.
The council discussed the idea at its June 18 meeting.
The state limits property tax levy rates from increasing more than 1% annually. Sales tax income has been stagnant, Hasart said. A property tax levy lid lift could aid on this, she said.
Further discussions within the City Council will determine the proposed rate for the lift above 1%.
Councilmember Heather Fulcher said she believes homeowners in Monroe should not bear the entire burden of paying for park needs. Instead, Fulcher suggests that those using the parks should contribute financing through a sales tax.
“It’s pretty obvious who’s using the park — that would be the people coming in from out of town and us as well — but we (homeowners) are already paying. We need to capture the money from the users,” Fulcher said. “I am not sold on this. I think it needs to be a sales tax because that really identifies who is using the park. However, those sales tax options may not be viable, as previous attempts to work with state legislators on this issue were unsuccessful. Legislators believed it resembled a tax and lacked sufficient support for action. Supplanting taxes or revenue from other sources was also discussed by the council, specifically Councilmember Kevin Hanford, but the staff stated it was not feasible.”
Councilmember Tami Beaumont voiced concerns about the impact on some citizens.
“The levy lift could potentially strain certain citizens financially,” Beaumont said. “That $10 or $11 a month might really be hard for some people. Since 2018, (state law) has allowed cities to exempt senior citizens, disabled veterans, and the disabled from levy lifts. Determining the age of a senior citizen is something we would definitely want to include in the levy lid lift.”