TOWN TALKS TAXES
BOWMAN -- There was not a seat to be found Thursday night in Bowman's City Hall, with more than 100 people sitting in the designated chairs within the meeting room. More than 50 spilled out into the hallway, hoping to hear the reasoning behind the Bowman City Commission raising property taxes more than 40 percent.
Members of the commission, along with President Lyn James, were on hand to present information regarding the raise in taxes, the city's involvement with major projects, along with answering any questions and concerns during Thursday's public meeting.
James said a lot of rumors have circulated regarding the increase.
"Much of the conversation has taken place in coffee shops, bars, restaurants, and yet the commission has not had a single property owner ask to be put on the agenda or even attend a meeting to discuss questions," James said. "As the city has grown, the demands have grown as well. Due to increased costs, we felt it necessary to raise your taxes."
James also discussed the various projects the city has helped by contributing funds, such as the Four Seasons Pavilion and library.
City attorney Steve Wild moderated the event, and prefaced the question and answer session with specific information on the tax increase.
"In 2007, the city mills were 340.12, in 2008 the city mills were 437.75," Wild said. "That is an increase of 28.7 percent. Also, your taxable valuation went up nine percent, which is pretty much a dictate from state law."
Wild went on to say with the mill increase along with the valuation increase, through a formula, new taxes are now 40.278 percent higher.
"If you have commercial property it would not have gone up that much because you did not get a nine percent increase in your valuation, it only applied to residential property," Wild said. "A letter, sent out in December to the residents of Bowman, informed citizens of the tax increase."
James said over the past decade, the city was told they could not raise mill levies, but after research, found they could.
"From the structure of the home-rule charter, we found out we did in fact have the authority to raise the mill levy," James said. "That brought on a short moment of relief among the commissioners as we were facing some serious budget cuts without that increase."
Projects, along with requests from various entities, strain the monies received from oil and gas revenue, which totaled $620,037 in 2008, said Judy Pond, Bowman city Auditor.
"That money went into the general fund," Pond. "The general fund takes care of the street department and all the rest that runs the city. When there has not been a raise in the general fund in 11 years, and when you range from $128,000 to $130,000 in general revenue, you can't run the city on that."
The Bowman Police Department's budget alone for 2008, Pond said, totaled approximately $227,570, while the street department's budget totaled approximately $190,000, although those budgets did not necessarily reflect what each department received.
"When you look at our budget, we budget higher than we hope we ever have to use," Pond said. "I think that you can see that $620,000 doesn't go as far as it did."
Water, sewer and garbage are self-sustaining funds, Pond said. A little money is put away for future projects or potential equipment replacements, including water, which provides $1 for every 1,000 gallons sold, quarterly, she said.
Pond estimated the increased levy will generate approximately $312,000.
Vivian Hernandez, Bowman resident, had some harsh words for the commission.
"As a home owner, I want to have the best of everything too, but I have to budget," Hernandez said. "I think it was poor planning to have the meeting in here. There are 50 people standing out in the hallway and they have just as much of a right to be in here as these people do."
Hernandez, who received a round of applause after her comments, was among many who posed questions to the commission, ranging from changing the water rates to accommodate the needs of the city, to cutting the budgets of departments to decrease taxes.
James said the 2010 budget will be examined next summer, along with each department's budget.
"There are some areas that have come to light that could be adjusted in order to have a substantial mill levy decrease," James said. "Those areas will involve in-depth study by commission members and area officials by different entities and the community."
James, along with other members of the commission encouraged community members to attend commission meetings to voice any questions or concerns they might have.
"This gathering is very important to the commission," James said. "We appreciate the input and we appreciate the concern. I feel confident you will see a difference."