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City aims for tax levy decrease in 2014 budget

MORRIS – City Manager Blaine Hill told the Morris City Council on Tuesday that his goal for the 2014 budget is to reduce the overall tax levy for the residents of Morris.

Discussion about the 2014 budget began when the council was asked to approve a list of budget guidelines that city staff will use while preparing the 2014 budget and levy.

“We did have a pretty favorable outcome at the legislature with additional local government aid and the [sales] tax exemption we got,” Hill said. “As I put this together, what I looked at was how we would incorporate those two things into the budget that we're putting together.”

Under the guidelines, city staff will look to keep the levies for the general fund and library fund flat, but increase the debt service levy to pay the bond on this summer's construction project.

However, Hill said he believed that the city would be able to find enough ongoing savings in the general fund to offset the debt levy increase and lower the overall tax levy.

“Potentially, I think when it's all said and done in the end, we're going to probably be able to reduce our tax levy overall even though we have a debt levy increase,” Hill said.

In 2014, the city is expecting an increase of $170,670 in Local Government Aid. The city should also see a savings of about $80,000 because of the sale tax exemption, City Finance Director Deb Raasch estimated.

Hill told the council that he wants to invest most of the new LGA money into the capitol improvement fund for road maintenance for at least the next two years until the city sees what the legislature plans to do with LGA long term.

“I think that's a good way of spending one-time maybe money on one-time stuff as opposed to putting it into operational stuff that is ongoing,” said Hill.

Other key points in the guidelines include:

• Set the city employee wage increase to two percent based on current agreements;

• Look at how changes from the Affordable Care Act will affect the city's health insurance costs;

• Invest $175,000 into the capitol outlay fund to continue investing in new equipment;

• Invest more money into road maintenance using the increased LGA allocation; and

• Recommend that staff levels remain the same.

Construction projects progressing around the city

It is a very busy time around the city of Morris as construction, demolition and improvement projects have begun in several areas.

Breitbach Construction has started work for the West Ninth, 10th and 11th Street project. On Tuesday, the council approved a first payment of approximately $91,300 on the $1.6 million project.

Across town, city crews have torn up Fourth Street from Colombia Avenue to College Avenue as part of a road “reclaim” down to Oregon Avenue, and the block in front of St. Mary's School. 

For the project, contractors will tear up the street, city crews will follow to do the prep work, then contractors will return to do the final grading and blacktop. They'll progress down the street a couple blocks at a time, Hill said.

Nearby, crews with Dore and Associates Contracting of Bay City, Mich., are preparing to remove the asbestos from the old elementary school building.

Hill said there has been some vandalism in the building, so the city will be meeting with the site supervisor to talk about securing the building and installing a fence around the site.

Council members Kevin Wohlers and Bill Storck asked whether the city should be concerned about Dore and Associates entering into sub-contracts for the project.

“To ensure quality work is going to be what we expect, what kind of controls do we have?” asked Wohlers. 

“Every project is subbed out,” said Hill, noting that Breitbach Construction has subbed out some of the work on the West Side project for things like gravel and blacktopping. 

Wohlers said he was concerned that the subcontracting might delay the project, but Hill said the company had to be done by Sept. 30 or they would be fined.

“I believe they're going to do the job,” said Hill.

City adjusts state aid road designations

On Tuesday, the council voted to make two small changes to the roads designated Municipal State Aid Roads, adding Fifth Street from Atlantic to California Avenue and Oregon Avenue from Fifth Street to South Street.

At a prior meeting, the council voted to change which streets have this designation, but two blocks of Oregon Avenue were rejected because they are part of a one-way street, City Manager Blaine Hill said.

The road re-designations will allow the city to have more access to state and federal road funding for improvement projects. The state and federal money will help cover the cost of a storm sewer repair for Oregon Avenue from East Fourth Street to Elm Street tentatively planned for 2014.

Other business

• The council passed a resolution accepting an insurance renewal proposal by the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust. The city's annual premium will be approximately $239,000 for property and liability coverages, workers' compensation coverage and airport coverage.

• The council approved a temporary on sale liquor license to the Morris Eagles for Rock the Groundz at the Stevens County Fairgrounds in July.

• The council approved a revised outdoor lighting maintenance agreement with Ottertail Power Company. The new agreement will save the city about $48 per month.

• The council authorized Police Chief Jim Beauregard to purchase new guns for the police department. After trading in the old guns, the total cost will be about $1,790.