Finances

BELTON — Councilman Guy O’Banion’s four-month long effort pushing for a lower tax rate paid off Tuesday.

In a 5-2 vote, the Belton Council set the city’s 2021 tax rate at 63 cents — which is slightly lower than the city’s no-new-revenue rate of 63.01 cents. Mayor pro tem Wayne Carpenter and Councilman Dan Kirkley — who were open to the proposed rate of 64 cents or 63.5 cents — voted against the new rate.

“This is what we’ve been talking about. This is what we’ve been saying,” O’Banion said. “I thank the staff for crunching the numbers and actually verifying that (63 cents) would work.”

The new rate is a nearly 3-cent drop from the current tax rate of 65.98 cents.

“I think this is probably the biggest tax (rate) decrease that we’ve ever had in the city — certainly in my lifetime and that’s a long time,” Carpenter, 71, who is in his fourth stint on the Council, jokingly said.

Under the new rate, the average Belton taxpayer would pay $1,218.94 in city taxes — a $46.94 increase from last year’s bill.

“We’ve gotten some amazing sales tax information in the last week as it has been consistent during this time period and it seemed to make an adjustment, like we’ve been talking about, pretty realistic and something we could accomplish in three fairly easy steps,” City Manager Sam Listi said, explaining how Belton managed to lower its rate.

First, the city had to reduce its property tax revenue to around $6.3 million. That is $117,379 less than the $6.4 million projected in a recent draft of the budget based on a 64-cent tax rate.

“The second item would be a revision to the budget to acknowledge the additional sales tax revenue — about $450,000,” Listi said, referring to the increased sales tax revenue projection of $4.26 million. Previously, that figure was budgeted at $3.8 million.

Carpenter — who is all but certain to be Belton’s next mayor because he is the sole candidate for the position on the Nov. 3 ballot — expressed concern about sales tax revenue not being as strong as budgeted.

The general fund revenue adjustments amount to an increase of $333,621.

Finally, the city manager said, the new rate will allow Belton to pursue the Council’s three top priorities — hiring two additional police officers, maintaining competitive salaries and improving retirement benefits — that cost an estimated $345,000.

“Those come very, very close to equaling each other. We believe they’ll be achievable,” Listi said, later adding the Council could consider a budget amendment in January that would dedicate additional dollars to street maintenance.

Councilman Craig Pearson, who asked city staff to crunch the numbers to determine if a 63-cent rate would be feasible, said the new tax recognizes Belton’s new reality that has been shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“And, at the same time, we’ve got some significant flexibility left in that fund balance that we kept adding to and adding to that if sales tax goes south, we’re still in good shape for this biennial, if you will,” Pearson said, bringing up the 2021 budget’s ending fund balance of $16.9 million, which is a $2.2 million increase over the budget’s starting fund balance. “Even if it doesn’t work out, we have significant dollars in the taxpayers’ savings account to do that.”

Likewise, O’Banion was not concerned about using fund balance to support initiatives in the new fiscal year.

“I think that’s what it’s there for,” he said.

Councilman John Holmes was pleased the tax rate was lowered.

“I feel really good about 63 cents,” he said.

Aside from the tax rate, the City Council signed off on a $29.9 million budget for the 2021 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, and approved Belton’s revised 2021-25 strategic plan. The budget decision was 5-2, with Kirkley and Carpenter dissenting. The strategic plan vote was unanimous.