Fact-checking the council candidates

Sep. 30, 2013 @ 08:49 AM

Incumbent candidates for City Council touted their fiscal restraint at the recent forum hosted by the League of Women Voters pointing to sharp budget cuts and a stable tax rate over the past two years. Meanwhile, mayor challenger Kyle Hayes built his pitch to voters on claims that it is too expensive to do business in Monroe.

The truth lies somewhere between the two.

According to figures obtained from the City of Monroe, the council has maintained a 55-cent tax rate since 2011. But they also show that since 2004 the amount of property taxes collected by the city has nearly doubled.

In 2004, the city tax levy raised $10,893,000. By 2012, the last full year reported, tax collections totaled $19,084,000. The sharpest increase in collections came between 2006 and 2011. During that period the city tax rate rose from 49 cents to 55 cents.

While city taxes rose significantly, other fees rose even more sharply, underscoring Hayes’ assertions that the cost of doing business is expensive in Monroe. The city increased its Business Privilege License Fees seven times in the past decade with the largest increase coming in 2011 when the fee was raised by 96 percent.

During that period the number of businesses in Monroe increased from 1,965 in 2004 to a high of 2,480 in 2009. Since then the number of businesses in the city dipped to 2,032 in 2012 and then rebounded in the past year to 2,203.

In 2004, the city collected $238,831 in business license fees, but at the end of the decade that amount nearly quadrupled to $969,179.

While electrical rates are more complicated because the rates vary with usage, it is clear that rates have increased for first tier usage (1250 kilowatts for businesses and 300 kilowatts for residential customers) nearly every year. The increases varied each year between 4 percent and eight percent. There were no rate increases in that level of service in 2004, 2005 and 2010. Rate increases in the past two years were 5.8 percent for small business and 6.2 for residential users.

Proceeds from electric rate (charges for service/sales of power) have grown from $33,438,079 in 2004 to $51,803,303 this year. Other power related charges including a tax on power sales added another $1,096,740 to the collection total.

Other costs of living in the city rose as well.  A stormwater fee instituted in 2009 has grown from producing $822,350 in revenue the first year to more than double this year when collections are expected to total $1,831,655.

Solid waste collection fees generated $1.8 million in 2004 and have grown to $2.2 million this year.

The one bright spot for city residents was the cost of natural gas. Total collections on the sale of natural gas has dropped from $21,914,598 in 2004 to $14,057,987 this year.