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City residents can expect tax decrease

By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

Morris residents can expect a tax decrease in their city's 2009 budget.

The Morris City Council voted Tuesday to approve a $1.1 million tax levy, which represents a 5.5 percent decrease from 2007. The council also approved a preliminary 2009 operating and debt service budget of $8.1 million. Expenditures are expected to be about $142,000 less than proposed 2009 revenues.

The tax decrease is due primarily to the city receiving an increase of about $144,000 in state aid. Without that, said City Manager Blaine Hill, the city might instead be considering tax increases of a comparable dollar amount.

"It really helps taxpayers," he said.

The overall budget will increase by about $384,000, and, because of steady street and utility improvements the last three years, the city's debt service is expected to increase by almost $156,000.

There are other potential pitfalls ahead. While the city doesn't pay certain taxes on fuel and gets a break since it buys fuel as part of a cooperative, those costs could increase, Hill said.

The city is also drawing significantly less interest income because of interest rate decreases across financial markets. The city may see decreases of at least 50 percent in interest income, Hill said.

And the Local Government Aid which helped facilitate the tax decrease could go away as quickly as it arrived, depending on what the Minnesota Legislature does to offset expected budget deficits, Hill said.

Once set, the city cannot increase its preliminary levy. It can lower the levy, however.

City officials and department heads will begin budget discussions in early November, and a final budget will be adopted in December.

In other city business:

• The council set Oct. 28 for a preliminary assessment hearing on work being planned in the Highland Homes Addition for next spring. The meeting is at 5:30 p.m. at the council chambers.

Hill said about 95 parcels will be included in the project

The city, based on preliminary engineering plans, estimates the water, sanitary and storm sewer work at about $2.6 million.

Residents will receive mailed notices of the meeting, and it also will be published.

The average assessment in the Highland Homes area will be about $9,000 per property, but Hill cautioned that that dollar figure could be higher or lower for residents because curb and gutter are assessed based on the front footage of the property. Since the area lacks storm sewer service, adding it - and in what form - could affect assessments.

An appraisal of the proposed improvements placed the value to property owners at about $12,000 to $18,000, Hill said.

• The council approved spending $4,000 for a topographical study of the old elementary school property.

The study was recommended by the landscape architect currently working to develop the 17-acre parcel into a neighborhood. The city's engineering firm, Widseth Smith Nolting, will compile the study.

"This information will put us way ahead in getting a good product off that property," Hill said.

The council also approved hiring Jim Riley and Sons Construction to remove a 10,000 gallon underground tank from the school property. The $5,000 bid to remove the tank was accepted.

• The Morris Transit system showed a ridership decrease last month compared to August 2007, but still is ahead of last year's overall pace.

The transit report showed 3,471 total passengers for August, almost 500 fewer riders than in August 2007.

However, year-to-date, transit ridership is 500 passengers above last year, during which the system had record ridership numbers.