Mayor drops rental fee from budget
HUNTINGTON -- Huntington City Council on Monday unanimously approved a $43.5 million budget for 2013-14 that is almost identical to the one that Mayor Steve Williams proposed during his State of the City address last month.
The key difference between the two is that the budget council members approved does not include a fee to cover costs associated with inspecting rental property. Williams, however, says landlords will still be required to register their properties beginning July 1. The city also will move forward with a plan to inspect rental units every three years.
Williams initially proposed that landlords pay a $50 annual fee for each unit they own. The revenue - about $330,000 -- would have gone toward hiring an additional code enforcement officer to inspect properties.
Williams said he voluntarily withdrew the fee from the budget after meeting with several landlords in recent weeks. The landlords reminded him of a campaign promise he made that no new fees would be assessed until the city does everything it can to collect existing fees from those who are not paying. That effort includes going after landlords who are not paying business and occupation taxes, Williams said.
"It became apparent to me there are much bigger battles I'm willing to fight than a $50-per-unit fee," he said. "We're not saying we aren't going to pursue a rental registry or inspect properties. We absolutely have to establish those things. We just aren't going to assess a fee."
The loss in projected revenue from the fee is being made up in the budget with increased collections in the business and occupation tax, which still allows the city to hire an additional code enforcement officer, among other things, Williams said. The city is projecting that it will collect $12.6 million in business and occupation taxes by June 30, the end of the fiscal year. It now will be expected to collect $14.4 million next fiscal year, a 14 percent increase.
Code enforcement officers won't be the only city employees conducting rental inspections, Williams said. The effort also will include the soon-to-be reinstated Fire Prevention Bureau and firefighters at the six fire stations.
"We will have them reviewing structures in their neighborhoods," Williams said of the firefighters' involvement. "They will be able to familiarize themselves with structures and provide fire prevention education to the residents. It will build goodwill and forge support in the community."
The only change that City Council made to the budget was increasing a contribution to the City of Huntington Foundation from $3,000 to $8,000.
City Council members made quick work of Williams' budget, as it needed only two budget meetings to review his proposals. Williams provided his budget to council members on Feb. 15. During the past several years, it has required at least four budget meetings and five or six weeks for City Council to review the mayor's budget.
Council Chairman Mark Bates said the difference between this year and previous years was that council members did not have to deal with a proposed tax increase. He also said he feels confident Williams will monitor the budget closely.
"I was sold on the mayor's budget when he said they would conduct weekly staff reviews so if projections come in lower than expected there won't be a major crisis," Bates said.
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2013-14 Huntington city budget
Here are the highlights from Huntington's budget, which City Council approved Monday:
EMPLOYEES: There are no pay raises in the budget, but it does includes funding for 11 new positions spread over several departments. Mayor Steve Williams says nine of those positions are tied to revenue creation.
BUSINESS LICENSING: The budget includes a "business services concierge" who will help business owners apply for permits and licenses, among other things. The position will pay $44,249.
COLLECTIONS: The budget calls for the hiring of an assistant city attorney to collect delinquent taxes and fees.
STORM WATER: A Storm Water Division will be created under the Department of Public Works and fund a full-time position for a storm water coordinator to make sure the city complies with federal environmental guidelines.
PAVING: The city will spend $1 million on paving, the same amount as this year. Williams will maintain fall and spring paving programs.
CODE ENFORCEMENT: The budget includes funding for a new code enforcement officer to assist with Williams' multi-pronged approach of cleaning up the city through code enforcement.
FIRE DEPARTMENT: Two new firefighters will be hired, allowing the Fire Department to reinstate the Fire Prevention Bureau.
POLICE DEPARTMENT: Next year's budget absorbs funding for four officer positions that have been funded with federal grants.
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