In a 6-2 vote, the Berea City Council approved a measure that increases the property tax rate from 10.2 cents per $100 of property to 10.5 cents. The rate increase of .003 per $100 is the first significant tax hike in Berea in approximately eight years, said officials.
Before the vote, Berea City Council member Jerry Little pointed out the increase means a $3 increase per year on a property valued at $100,000. He added he supports the increase to address needs like fixing local streets, but he also indicated he’s in favor of tightening the budget where possible.
Audit and Finance Chair Steve Caudill noted the adjustment is needed because of increasing costs of services. “Everything that we do is going up. Three years ago, it cost about $68 a ton to mill and pave a street. Tonight, we just got a bid for $107,” Caudill said, adding recommending the increase was not an easy decision. “I encourage the council to pass this, and I don’t take that recommendation lightly, but it is the responsibility of all of us to make sure that our city remains solvent and continues to provide the same level of services that we expect,” he said.
Council members Cora Jane Wilson and Jim Davis spoke in support of the measure, both noting that while they didn’t take the decision lightly, it was the responsible thing to do. “It’s not an easy thing to do, but at the same time, it’s a no-brainer,” Wilson said.
Before the vote, Ronnie Terrill suggested the city did not need to raise property taxes, but should instead use what he said is surplus money from the city’s electric utility.
Other council members disagreed, questioning whether it is possible to use utility funds in that manner.
When the vote was cast, Jerry Little, Steve Caudill, Jim Davis, Cora Jane Wilson, Emily LaDouceur and John Payne voted in favor of the rate adjustment, while Ronnie Terrill and David Rowlette voted no.
During council comments, Rowlette said he voted against the increase, in part, because the city needs to live within its means.
In other council action:
• The council heard the first reading of a budget amendment for the general and proprietary funds of the city. The amendments totaled $399,500 for liability insurance for utilities, general liability insurance for the city, a payment for animal control services, money for a land purchase, and street resurfacing.
• The council voted 7-1 to accept a recommendation from the Audit and Finance Committee to increase the Berea Human Rights Commission (BHRC) budget from $2,000 to $4,000.
Prior to that vote, the council voted 6-2 against a motion by Emily LaDouceur to increase the budget to $8,000, as originally recommended by the committee.
Speaking for the BHRC, Peter Hille said the Audit and Finance Committee had failed to justify the $4,000 cut. Councilman Jim Davis, disagreed, noting he had procedural questions about the timeliness in which the BHRC submitted its budget.
David Rowlette cast the vote against increasing the BHRC budget to $4,000.
“I think they [BHRC] learned a fairly hard lesson. There was a public perception, right or wrong, that they were not good stewards of their funds,” Rowlette said.
• Art Accelerator alumnus Cynthia Main made a presentation to the council, announcing a plan to open a store on Chestnut Street where local artisans could sell their work. The store will be in the location of what was once the Five and Dime store. Main credited the Art Accelerator program with drawing her to Berea from Missouri, and she thanked local institutions, including the Art Accelerator, for helping her launch and expand her craft business, Sunhouse Craft.
• Two bids were opened for a new fire equipment. Vogelpohl Equipment of Erlanger, KY bid $548,737 and Finley Fire Equipment bid $586,168. The bids were referred to Fire Chief Shawn Sandlin for further analysis.
• City Administrator David Gregory recommended accepting a street resurfacing bid from the Allen Company for $361,001. Streets slated for resurfacing include: North Powell, East Haiti, Burnell Drive, Ridge Avenue, First Street, Second Street, Central Avenue, Bratcher Lane, Whispering Oaks, Woodwind Court, and Short Line.
• Sandy Rowlette addressed the council and reminded residents there is still time to reserve a booth for the upcoming Spoonbread Festival. Opportunities to volunteer are still available, she added.