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Morris City Council sets budget guidelines for 2013

MORRIS, Minn. - Morris residents may see a major change to the way special assessments for public works projects are calculated in 2013, but should not expect a tax increase of more than three to five percent, based on budget guidelines approved by the Morris City Council this week.

At the city council meeting Tuesday, City Manager Blaine Hill asked the council to pass a set of guidelines that will help him and the rest of the city's department heads as they develop the city's 2013 budget.

One of the major changes included in the guidelines is a charge to look at the way the city manages special assessments, including the street pavement assessments and the storm sewer assessment.

"Part of what we need to do as a city, to make sure we're taking care of everything that's our responsibility, is to look at how we finance things," said Hill.

Currently, the city funds 100 percent of road projects with a general levy, which means all taxpayers in the city contribute to every road project. During 2012 budget discussions, Hill told the council that many other cities have an assessment to property owners for road projects - anywhere from 20 to 70 to even 100 percent.

"What's happened through the years is that we just haven't done enough because we had to borrow money as a city to pay for streets," Hill said Tuesday. "You can only borrow so much money when you're doing these projects. I think we have to get back to the reality that property owners have to pay for what they use as far as services."

Other guidelines for the 2012 budget include:

• A maximum general tax levy of between three and five percent.

• A financing package for the demolition of the old elementary school.

• An increase of water and sewer rates of three percent.

• A wage increase of 2.5 percent.

The city council will discuss the budget recommendations more fully at a budget work session later this year.

City prepares old elementary school property for potential demolition

City crews have been working at the old elementary school property to prepare it for potential demolition in 2013, Hill told the council.

The city has decided to get rid of anything on the property that is not part of the old school building. This week, crews removed the old track curve, ticket box and stairs. City Inspecting Engineer Jay Fier and Public Works Director Jim Dittbenner will be looking at the trees on the property to figure out which trees should be removed in anticipation of a future demolition project.

Hill also told the council he was putting the finishing touches on an Environmental Assessment Worksheet for the property - the first piece of paperwork needed before the building can be removed. The report will need to be approved by the city council, then published with the State of Minnesota and with a number of other government agencies.

"The plan is to continue working towards doing a bid on [the project] and taking that building out next year," said Hill.

Other business

• The preliminary results from a survey sent to Morris residents with their utility bills indicate residents are concerned about local roads, the community's appearance and snowplowing. Hill plans to present final survey results to the council in July.

• The population of Morris is growing. The Minnesota State Demographic Center has released its 2011 population estimates. The Morris estimate shows an increase of 54 people, from 5,289 to 5,343.

• The council accepted a $2,500 Community Partnership Grant from CenterPoint Energy that will be used to purchase portable rescue lights and two sets of turnout gear for the Morris Fire Department.

• The council approved a proposal for property and liability coverage, workers' compensation coverage and airport coverage from the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust for a total annual premium of $223,594.

• City staff have been working to address junk and debris issues in the city. Hill said he has sent out a number of letters to residents asking for help with junk, debris and substandard buildings.