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Do you support a budget at the effective tax rate so home and business owners continue to benefit from the “growth dividend” and pay the same amount in property taxes as in the previous fiscal year? How do we balance this strategy with meeting the needs of people struggling to access services due to a lack of service capacity? How do you prioritize additional funding? Where would you look for efficiencies? (Y/N; Explain)

Bobby Levinski

City Council, District 8

No The effective tax rate should be the start of budget planning, but without the benefit of economic forecasts and needs assessments, it would be financially irresponsible of any council candidate to make commitments on the tax rate in advance of the budget process. I agree that we should start from the premise that we need to work within our means and that financial prudence should be exercised more to limit the tax burden on our residents (homeowners and renters, alike). Talking to people in District 8, concerns about rising taxes are always on the top of their lists, so I will do my best to represent these voices by refocusing our council discussions on needs-based budgeting without frills. At a time when our residents’ property taxes (and rents) are increasing exponentially, it’s more important than ever for the City to mitigate the rising costs of living for existing homeowners and renters. I support (i) reducing the City’s reliance on flat-rate fees (such as those on utility bills) which have a disproportionate impact on lower-income and fixed-income families; (ii) establishing a resident-based budget review committee to review the budget, prioritize funding to address needs and prepare longer-term financial goals for the City; and (iii) raising the homestead exemption for seniors and persons with disabilities. Having served as a three-time council aide, I have been behind-the-scenes working to balance the budget during several budget cycles. Over the years, my main criticism of our budget process is that it is often short-sighted. Council priorities get moved to the top so that a council member can have a political “win”, while longer-term financial goals like stabilizing the city retirement systems get put off to later years. My approach to the budget would emphasize building up our reserves and eliminating the use of the Budget Stabilization Reserve Fund as a one-time fund slush fund. If we can have the council start planning ahead more (as a body), we can reduce the incentive/necessity for near-term budget allocations. With regard to potential cuts, that is a conversation that should occur as a community and with the departments, which is why I see a need for establishing a budget-minded advisory committee. That said, there are some budget items that I do see as unnecessary expenses, such as the council’s increases in staffing within their offices. I opposed the increase of their offices when it was approved (even when I was in one of those positions). I have been a vocal proponent of using the hotel occupancy tax to offset general fund costs, such as funding for the historic preservation program. And, I am a reticent of the use of “Tax Increment Financing” in ways like what was done for Waller Creek, which earmarked millions of dollars of future general fund revenue for Downtown parks. That money could have been made available to address general fund needs or even reduce the need for tax increases in the future.