Dave Rogers

For The Record

While no taxpayers came forward during the first public hearing on the City of Orange’s proposed tax rate increase, there was heard a discouraging word or two Tuesday evening.

“You just can’t keep tapping homeowners for more money, more money, more money,” Alan Mesecher said during the citizens’ comment portion of the meeting.

The city has posted a proposed rate increase of 12.3 cents per $100 property value, raising the rate from 0.71774 to 0.83004 to help bridge the gap created by lower property values.

However, as Mayor Larry Spears reiterated Tuesday:

“Council and staff have worked to cut every expenditure possible not to raise taxes. Nobody up here wants to raise taxes, but at the same time, the city has to operate.”

Raising tax rates does not guarantee a tax increase for property owners. Values city-wide dropped 9 percent this year because of damage from Tropical Storm Harvey.

“This is a poor time to raise taxes,” Mesecher said, “when people are trying to get back on their feet.

“We have multiple homes, so raising property taxes affects us multiple times. The houses are not fully repaired yet, so we have people leaving.”

At a budget workshop last Friday, council whittled off enough expenses to a lower proposed tax rate of .80687.

While council can cut its rate below .83004 before putting it up for a final vote Sept. 25, it cannot raise it higher than that amount voted on Aug. 14.

Among the cuts council has indicated it will make is to “mothball” the Orange Natatorium.

Both Mesecher and Roland Buckner spoke against closing the Natatorium and Mesecher was joined by former Mayor Essie Bellfield in speaking of the city’s need of a hospital.

One expense that drew smiles from council members Tuesday was the announcement from Cheryl Zeto, city finance chief, had regarding employee insurance.

She said that consultant Lance Pendley, who in June advised the city to keep its health policy with Blue Cross Blue Shield, had negotiated a rate increase of just 3.7 percent, as opposed to the 15 percent hike he warned of.

Council OK’d an annual premium of $3.4 million to insure its approximately 200 employees and dependents.

Zeto said there was 0 percent raise in rates for employee dental, vision and life insurance.

Director of Planning Kelvin Knauf gave a presentation on how to polish up 16th Street. He proposed several approaches to improve “the 16th Street Experience,” but said “there are no easy, quick fix solutions.”

City manager Shawn Oubre reported that resurfacing of Sunset Drive had been delayed while waiting for Centerpoint Entergy to relocate a gas line.

A second tax rate public hearing is set for 9 a.m. Sept. 11 at Council Chambers at the Orange Public Library.