LOWELL -- City Manager Kevin Murphy's proposed fiscal year 2015 budget, his first budget proposal as the city's chief executive, calls for a 3.5 percent increase in the city's property-tax levy.

That proposed increase in taxes generated from properties already online is the same amount then-City Manager Bernie Lynch proposed in a preliminary budget he provided to the council in the days before his departure in March.

The proposed tax increase for the budget year beginning July 1 comes following two straight years in which property taxes remained level in the city.

"We can't continue to maintain services in the city, increase our commitment to public safety and increase our commitment to education without a tax increase," Murphy said Tuesday night after providing the budget to the council.

"We have kept the tax increase as minimal as we could in this budget," he said.

Murphy said the impact the levy increase will have on the average single-family tax bill and the tax rates won't be known until the fall. The overall budget, including the city's enterprise funds, calls for approximately $334 million in spending.

Murphy said the increased tax revenue will help bolster the three focus areas of the budget: public safety, education and economic development.

His budget proposal funds five new patrol officer positions and Murphy said it provides funding to ensure that any vacant police positions will be filled. The city recently filled 11 vacant positions, said Murphy.

On the education front, Murphy said the budget will address the city's multi-million dollar net school spending shortfall.

The city's cash contribution to the public schools is proposed to rise from $14.46 million to $17.36 million, a $2.9 million or 20 percent increase. The state's contribution to city schools is increasing by $5.2 million.

Net school spending is the minimum amount of spending on a school system required by the state.

A strong education system that provides a talented workforce and a safe city will help boost economic development, said Murphy.

"This budget makes sure that our talented workforce and our public safety remains paramount, which I feel is going to spur economic development in the city," Murphy said.

The City Council acknowledged timely receipt of the budget and has scheduled a public hearing for Tuesday, June 10, at 7 p.m. to review the budget.

The council can make cuts to the budget, but cannot add to it.

For more on this story, see Wednesday's Sun or visit http://www.lowellsun.com.

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