Monticello council approves 2013 preliminary tax levy

Monticello council members approved a $7.9 million preliminary levy Monday night, opting to hold the line on a previously established 2013 tax levy target.
The levy target represents a $50,000 or, .6 percent increase over the 2012 final levy.
The projected tax impact on city-only residential property ranges from less than $1 month on homes valued at $135,000 to less than $2 per month on homes valued at $300,000.
Traditionally, the city’s levy supports four different city functions: general fund operations, the community center, street reconstruction activities, and repayment of debt. According to City Administrator Jeff O’Neill, city staff assembled department requests and made adjustments to various line items to balance the budget. Requests trimmed from the general fund totaled $420,000. A final draft of the 2013 general fund budget provides for a $75,000 (1.1 percent) increase in department expenditures over the 2012 adopted budget.
Finance Director Wayne Oberg said city staff met with council last week to develop final levy recommendations. Oberg said the council could set an upper levy limit Monday night but lower the final levy after the city’s Truth-In-Taxation hearing in December. Each year, the city must certify a preliminary levy to the Wright County Auditor/Treasurer on or before Sept.15. The levy total is included in Truth-In-Taxation notices that are mailed to property owners in November.
Council members and city staff conducted a final budget workshop prior to Monday’s meeting to review a tax levy worksheet that contained additions and cuts.
During discussion, Councilmember Glen Posusta asked about cost of living adjustments (COLAs) in comparison to performance-based step salary increases.
The tax levy worksheet presented Monday night by city staff included an additional $33,000 to cover employee performance review adjustments during 2013.
“In my mind, COLA is separate from [a] performance-based increase. Some people started out low, they got a COLA increase this time around,” O’Neill said.
O’Neill said he thought step increases were a separate budget discussion item for the council. “I didn’t know it was off the table for this year,” he added.
Posusta said he would rather see step increases than COLA increases. Perrault added: “Our pay scale is right on the mark, but a lot of people have maxed out.” Posusta found it “hard to fathom” someone at the top of a pay scale wasn’t satisfied. Mayor Clint Herbst said he wasn’t upset with a COLA increase.
Council members agreed to keep $83,000 in the general fund budget to cover an EDA director’s salary.
Former director Megan Barnett resigned from that position in July. Community Development Director Angela Schumann said the EDA position received one-third of its funding from EDA revenues and two-thirds from the general fund. Herbst asked if the city could use tax-increment funding (TIF) dollars to pay for that position? McIntire said the city would have to sell land and generate revenue to use TIF to help fund the position. “We can see how it goes for now,” Perrault said of the $83,000 EDA position. “Keep it in the budget. The economy may go gangbusters, and we would have to keep somebody on.” Schumann said city staff understood the position involved significant cost. “Jeff [O’Neill] and I will take in as much as we can, but there will be things that drop off because we can’t do two jobs. Maybe you don’t need [a full-time] director.”
The council also removed $30,000 from the budget for boulevard tree planting and $15,500 for disc golf park improvements in the Monti Hill water tower area.
“Last year, we bought a lot of trees,” Herbst said. “At $30 a tree, we should try and get ahold of tree companies and see which ones they may want to dump.” Streets Superintendent Tom Moores said the city’s goal is to match trees. “That’s why we have the spring tree sale,” Moores said. O’Neill recommend the council put together a plan with the money at hand, adding the council’s options were to levy the $30,000, find another funding source or take money from the shade tree fund. Herbst said in the future, planting additional trees along School Boulevard would be an added improvement. “I don’t understand why we didn’t do that 20 years ago,” he said. O’Neill replied: “I’m pushing you to try and levy for it.” Herbst said he didn’t see the city paying $30,000 to add additional trees.
When it came time for the council to adopt a resolution establishing the 2013 levy, Perrault noted the $50,000 increase, comparing it with $173,000 last year.
Councilmember Lloyd Hilgart was the first council member to toss out a preliminary budget figure during Monday night’s regular meeting. He suggested a $7.915 million levy that included $15,500 for the Frisbee [disc golf] course. Hilgart’s motion would have increased the levy by $65,000, from .6 percent to .8 percent) Hilgart’s motion died for lack of a second. Herbst said it was important to get the Frisbee course built, but $15,000 was a lot to pay. Perrault then offered his levy motion. “We can always go lower. I’ll go with $7.9 million as proposed, he said. Herbst agreed the proposed levy was fair. After Posusta seconded Perrault’s motion, the $7.9 million preliminary levy passed 3-1, with Hilgart voting no. Councilmember Brian Stumpf was not in attendance at Monday’s meeting.

By Tim Hennagir