Houston council held their first 2014 budget meeting last Wednesday.
Mayor Bill Holmberg said they will be looking at cuts in 2014 to help them prepare for a big decline in tax revenues due to the closure of Houston Forest Products (HFP).
Houston Director of Finance William Wallace said HFP paid $618,980 in property taxes to the District of Houston, which is 12.2 percent of the $4,321,124 total collected by the District in property taxes in 2013.
Wallace said $524,975 of the HFP property taxes went towards the District’s general services.
Mayor Holmberg said council should be planning ahead for that loss in revenue.
“I think it will be fiscally prudent of us to show in this budget – even though we’re not seeing the tax decrease – that we’re being fiscally responsible and starting to do some cuts now ahead of the curve,” he said.
“Next year it will be an even harder job to do, so we might as well start taking some of the pain now.”
Deputy Mayor Shane Brienen said they don’t know yet how they will handle the budget changes.
“Probably at the end of the day, it’s going to be a mixture of things: you’re not going to come through without a tax increase and maybe you’ll lose some services,” he said.
Mayor Holmberg said their vision is to have different manufacturing plants in Houston three years from now, to generate more tax revenues, but that isn’t going to happen over night.
“In the meantime, we’ve got to bridge that in our budget by being as fiscally responsible as possible,” he said.
Council discusses their base budget (operations) and their operating and capital projects tonight, Wednesday, at the Council Chambers.
December 4 they will discuss their five-year financial plan, 2014 to 2018, and on December 7 they will hold a public community meeting.
Last Wednesday, council agreed to keep water, sewer and garbage, tax rates the same for 2014, at $133 per quarter or $532 per year for the average home.
No discounts are available for paying utilities taxes up front, as of January 2014.
With the water treatment plant operational in 2015, Wallace said there will be close to a 15 percent water tax increase in 2015, for the operation of the plant.