The Carmel City Council is considering a $114 million budget for 2016 – the biggest in city history – and one that includes a slight property tax increase.
The general fund is proposed at $83 million with $4 million for roads. The roads amount is essentially unchanged, but the overall general fund is up from $79 million in 2015.
The proposed property tax rate is set at 71.43 cents per $100 of assessed value, an increase from the current rate of 70.07 cents.
Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard said he doesn’t expect any controversy with the 2016 budget.
“It’s pretty much the same budget that we had for 2015,” he said. “With a new City Council, we might see some additional priorities that they’re interested in, but there aren’t a lot of changes.”
City Council President Rick Sharp, who ran against Brainard for mayor, said he’s not surprised about the size of the budget.
“I hope that will not go unchallenged,” he said. “I can’t really support the budget how it is because it will result in higher taxes. It’s not growing just due to inflation and population. It’s growing due to an increased tax rate. It doesn’t have anything to do with growth.”
Brainard said the budget is growing because of inflation and population.
“Every year is the largest because we’re growing,” he said. “Growing in population, growing in assessed value. Every budget over the last 20 years has been the largest.”
Brainard said that property taxes might increase but said it shouldn’t be a big concern.
“It might go up slightly,” he said. “The last two years, we wanted to stay stable, but according to the way the formula went the property taxes went down. We want to bring it back to the way it was two years ago. We’re talking about $30 for every $3,000, so it’s not a lot.”
Sharp calls that an excuse.
“Explain away all you want. It’s a tax increase,” he said. “The mayor campaigned on the fact that he said taxes didn’t need to be raised.”
To provide a comparison, Fishers, a city with approximately the same population as Carmel, has a proposed operating budget for 2016 of $62 million with a tax rate of $63.02 cents per $100 of assessed value.
“Fishers doesn’t spend money at the rate that Carmel does,” Sharp said. “They’ve done a great job of responsibly managing their budget.”
Brainard said the comparison doesn’t necessarily work because Carmel has more assessed value and far more commercial developments, which require more spending on roads and infrastructure.
Brainard said he’s happy with the $4 million for road repairs, but thinks that amount could go down to $3.2 million a year once the city “plays catch-up” from the recession and money spent annexing Southwest Clay and updating roads in that part of town. He previously suggested taking $800,000 from the city’s rainy day reserve fund to catch up on some projects while supply costs were favorable, but construction season has now passed. They mayor said he’ll try again in a few months.
“I didn’t have the votes,” Brainard said.
A new city council takes office in January and several new councilors who were endorsed by Brainard were elected. It’s believed that the mayor will have plenty of votes to pass his projects.