Mayor Shayne Gallo. (Photo by Phyllis McCabe)

Leaders of the Common Council say that they don’t anticipate major changes to Mayor Shayne Gallo’s proposed 2013 budget. But the council, set to vote on it tonight, Tuesday, Dec. 4, could take action to shift a greater share of the city’s tax levy from commercial to residential property owners.

Gallo’s budget, released on Oct. 18 and currently the subject of a series of Common Council Finance Committee meetings, amounts to a total of $36.8 million in spending, with the total amount to be raised by taxes coming in at $15,037,128. Both the tax levy and the total budget are slightly smaller than the city’s 2012 spending plan, in part because Gallo’s budget calls for drawing $686,393 from the city’s fund balance to lower tax rates. Gallo’s first budget as mayor also took a hard line on departmental spending — he rejected about $2 million in purchases, including new police, fire and public works vehicles, requested by department heads.

With the council set to vote on the budget, leaders from both parties say they believe the mayor’s budget will pass, in most respects, unchanged.

“I think that what it is now is pretty much what it’s going to be,” said Council Minority Leader Deborah Brown (R-Ward 9). “The department heads knew this was going to be a tough year and the budget reflects that. There’s just not a lot to play with.”

Council Majority Leader Tom Hoffay (D-Ward 2) called Gallo’s budget “prudent,” and noted it was essentially the same budget approved by the council last year. Hoffay said that any small cuts made in the budget should be applied to lowering tax rates, rather than reducing the drawdown from the city’s reserve fund.

“I think we have a responsibility to the taxpayers to lower those rates as much as we possibly can,” said Hoffay.

Shift more onto homesteads?

In addition to signing off on a 2013 budget, the Dec. 4 meeting will also likely see the council determining “base proportions” for the city’s dual homestead/non-homestead tax rates. The proportions essentially divide the total tax levy between commercial and residential property owners. Non-homestead properties, which account for about 31 percent of the city’s total assessed value, currently carry about 46 percent of the city’s total tax burden. Gallo’s budget calls for the formula to remain virtually unchanged. Commercial property owners in the city have long complained that the system, which results in commercial tax rates roughly double that for residential properties, stifles economic development and drives businesses to cheaper locations outside of the city. But backers of the skewed tax rate argue that homeowners, already reeling from historic declines in the real estate market, cannot afford to take on a greater share of the tax levy.

Slideshow image: Common Council Majority Leader Tom Hoffay. (Photo by Dan Barton)