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Morris City Council approves preliminary tax levy, waits on final budget

MORRIS - The Morris City Council approved a tax levy of approximately $1.25 million for 2012, a zero percent increase from 2011, at their meeting on Tuesday.

The council will wait to pass the final budget until their meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 27, when City Manager Blaine Hill will be able to present a revised budget that reflects the results of union negotiations.

Mayor Sheldon Giese and council members Jeff Miller, Bill Storck and Twig Webster voted in favor of the tax levy. Council member Matt Carrington was not at Tuesday's meeting.

At the city's Truth in Taxation hearing, Hill told the three citizen attendees that the levy being passed this year is basically equal to the levy passed in 2001. In 2002, the levy went down to about $843,000 because the state increased Local Government Aid to cities, said Hill. Over the last 10 years, the city's tax levy has gradually increased as state aid has decreased.

The overall budget for the city will go up 14.3 percent, from about $8.5 million in 2011 to $9.8 million in 2012. However, Hill pointed out that a big piece of that increase is local support dollars for a federally-funded street improvement project on Pacific Avenue that the city will not be bonding for.

The city's general fund budget increased about 1.1 percent. Hill said that spending in the general fund has stayed pretty flat from year to year.

The major increase in 2012 comes in the capitol outlay fund, which is increasing about 250 percent from about $123,000 in 2011 to about $310,000 in 2012. However, $163,000 of that total will provide the local share of the Pacific Avenue project, said Hill.

Other capitol outlay projects for 2012 include mill and overlay on the fire hall parking lot and a number of city streets: Wyoming Avenue between Highway 28 and West 8th Street, South Street between Atlantic Avenue and Columbia Avenue, South California Avenue between South Street and Elm Street, Iowa Avenue between 7th Street and Highway 28, Greendale Street, Meadow Lane and Ridge Road.

Most of the city's revenue - about $2.3 million - comes as aid from other units of government. Only about $619,000 of the city's revenue comes from local taxes, Hill explained.

"For the future, we have to continue depending on state aid, and state aid is going to continue to be unsure," said Hill. "That's the bottom line. That's the life that we live. ... There's absolutely no way we can get rid of state aid in our budget. Our tax levy would have to go up quite a bit."

The biggest city expense is public safety, which accounts for about $1.2 million. General government accounts for $639,000, public works costs $536,000 and transit accounts for $411,000.

In the future, Hill said the city will need to continue to invest in infrastructure and find a way to deal with the old elementary school building.

"We might have to bite the bullet and try to figure out how to borrow money to tear it down," said Hill. "At this point there's nobody knocking on our door that wants to develop that property. ... We believe the land has value, but nobody wants to come in and tear down the school just for the land."

Hill said he also anticipates reconsidering the city's road assessment policy sometime in 2012.

"We're one of the only towns that I know of that does not assess for reconstruction of roads," said Hill. "We assess absolutely zero for it, and that drives up the bonding costs we have for it. ... I think it's stifled our ability to do as much as we've needed to do in the past."

Other business

In other business, the council:

• Approved liquor licenses for 2012 for Crystal Lanes and Entertainment Center, Pamida, Eagles and the Ranch House.

• Approved deferred assessments for two residents on East 8th and East 9th Streets who, due to financial hardship, are unable to pay the assessments at this time. The assessments will be recorded on the property and will need to be paid - with interest - if the property undergoes some sort of change, said Hill.

• Approved a $155 assessment to Citimortgage for lawn mowing services on South Oregon Ave.

• Approved a resolution increasing the annual pension benefit for the Morris Fire Relief Association from $1,700 to $1,750.

Giese also appointed Julie Monroe to the Library Board, and council member Storck to the West Central Initiative Economic Development District Board.