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Alton proposes lower tax rate

If approved by city commissioners, Alton residents could see their property tax rate decrease by nearly a cent.

During their Tuesday meeting, commissioners were presented with a proposal to decrease the property tax rate from .444 cents per $100 valuation to .4367 cents.

“It’s almost a full cent decrease in our tax rate, it’s appropriate given so many people are struggling with the economy right now and we still don’t know what will happen due to the pandemic,” Alton City Manager Jeff Underwood said. “Our city has taken a hit but we’re in this together and we have to make it work and give a little relief for the people who live and own property here.”

By law, the city is required to hold a public hearing regarding the tax rate and plan to officially vote on it during a Tuesday, Sept. 8 meeting.

Next month the city will also vote on their budget for the upcoming fiscal. At the Tuesday meeting, Underwood presented to commissioners a proposed $5.5 million budget, a decrease from their current $5.9 million budget.

 The proposed budget also has $6 million in expected revenues, leaving negative $488,621 in the general fund balance.

As the presented budget was a draft, it and its figures could change before it is approved at a commissioner’s meeting next month.

“Obviously we would want our revenues to exceed expenditures but we’re doing well compared to other cities. We could be doing better though,” Underwood said. 

Underwood said in the last few months, the city faced a series of unexpected expenses such as $10,000 worth of overtime for the city’s first responders during the pandemic, equipment for them and a hit for city departments that usually make money for the city.

“When the first round of shelter at home orders hit, departments like the permits, municipal court and police and parks and rec took a hit because people weren’t going out,” Underwood said. 

A reappraisal of property by the county and new businesses and homes mitigated some of  that revenue loss, Underwood said.

“Our revenues in some areas have gone down drastically and other areas have increased unexpectedly and that’s been a nice surprise. Excluding the hurricane expense, we’ve stayed within budget this current year,” Underwood said.

An extension of a contract with the Hidalgo-based Scripture Ambulance service was also approved by commissioners Tuesday.

Scripture has been providing aid to the city for the last month by responding to emergencies that the city’s ambulance service cannot, Underwood said. 

The city pays Scripture $12,000 per week and their contract with the city is renewed on an as needed basis every two weeks. During its recent contracted meeting, Scripture responded to 31 emergencies, Underwood said.

“We’ve seen this as a valuable service in this point in time and hope we’ll eventually see a decrease in the number of those needing this service but my recommendation is to move forward with them until then,” Underwood told commissioners, adding that funds from the CARES Act are used to pay Scripture.

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