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City approves preliminary $1.3 million tax levy

City Attorney Aaron Jordan attended his first city council meeting and was sworn into office.

At a meeting on Tuesday, the Morris City Council approved a preliminary tax levy for 2012 of about $1.3 million, a 7.6 percent increase from 2011. However, in his notes to the city council, City Manager Blaine Hill said he anticipates the final levy will be somewhere between 3 and 5 percent.

The preliminary city budget is set at $9.6 million, about a 13 percent increase from last year. That increase includes additional revenue and expenses from the federally-funded Pacific Avenue Project, activity in bond funds and some one-time transfers.

The preliminary budget also includes slight increases for the general fund and for the library fund of 1.9 percent and 2.6 percent, respectively.

Council Member Jeff Miller asked why the library fund had an increase when everything else was frozen, wondering if the increase was related to a state mandate or other requirement.

"The only thing that changes is wages and benefits," said Hill. "There's no more for books. There might be a little more for utilities, those kind of things. ... We will look at those numbers further. We basically put in here what they're looking for to keep doing what they're doing."

Hill said the budget also includes a plan to make the final payment on the firetruck by transferring money from the liquor store reserves and equipment reserves.

"My philosophy is when you budget your reserves for ongoing expenses - like the State of Minnesota does - they automatically have to try to figure out how they're going to make up for that this year," Hill said. "If you're budgeting it for a one-time thing, like this, then it goes away next year anyway so we can come back and take a look at what we want to do next year."

The council is planning a budget work session sometime in October to look at the numbers further. At that meeting, Hill plans to present some long-range capitol improvement, equipment and levy plans for the council to consider.

The final levy and budget are set to be approved at the council's first regular meeting in December.

Hill proposes road construction assessment

As part of the discussion about the preliminary budget, Hill told the council he believes the city needs to reconsider the assessment policy for public improvements.

Currently, the city funds 100 percent of road projects with a general levy, meaning that all taxpayers in the city contribute to every road project. Many other cities have an assessment to property owners for road projects - anywhere from 20 to 70 to even 100 percent, said Hill.

"I don't know of hardly any cities in Minnesota that do that," said Hill. "We have a tremendous number of tax-exempt properties that are paying nothing for roads in front of their properties. They pay for their curb, they pay for their gutter, they pay for their sewer, they pay for their water, they do not pay for the road."

Hill recommended the council look at assessing at least 20 percent for roads. Hill said he will bring numbers about the possible impact of adding an assessment to the budget work session.

Other business

  • City Attorney Aaron Jordan took the oath of office, administered by Mayor Sheldon Giese.
  • The council approved executing a $135,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Transportation for the design of a parallel taxiway for the Morris Municipal Airport. The federal share of this grant will be $128,250 and the local share will be $6,750. The next step in the project is to acquire about 10 more acres of land on the southeast end of the property to facilitate the parallel taxiway. Hill told the council the airport project should begin next year.
  • The council approved an agency agreement to use a federal Safe Routes to School grant to furnish and install dynamic speed signs on Columbia Avenue in front of the elementary and high school. The total cost for the work will be $10,190, with 20 percent from local dollars and 80 percent federal dollars.