St. Michael tax hearing:

Budget to focus on minimum needs

The St. Michael City Council and staff heard from numerous residents during the annual truth-in-taxation hearing and assured each that the city is focusing on minimum needs.

 

HEARING

City administrator Steve Bot highlighted the 2013 tax levy and budget.

He said the reason for the 2.99 percent levy increase is due to increased infrastructure and equipment needs and bond payments.

Bot said the city has a highly efficient staff and provides a high quality level of service. He said the 2013 budget is focused on needs and does not prolong or extend payments for bonds or aging equipment, and that the city is trying to fund what it has and keep up with maintenance costs to avoid larger future levy increases.

Bot noted that the city has the lowest tax rate in Wright County, meaning the same valued home in another Wright County city would pay more in taxes than it does in St. Michael.

Bot also said that staff has been cut almost 50 percent since the peak development years. Before opening the meeting to the public, Bot concluded that the council has tried to avoid doing less with more and has made good management decisions to maintain a good bond rating, good infrastructure and avoid a high turnover of staff.

The following represents some, but not nearly all, of the comments taken by the public.

Dale Griffith was disappointed that his valuation keeps going up even though his 10-acre residential lot can’t be developed or used for commercial purposes. He plans to meet with the city assessor prior to next spring’s Board of Appeal and Equalization meeting where residents can challenge property valuations.

Layne Roschen asked what the expected levy increases would be in the next few years, and Bot said the levies are looked at annually, with the amount depending on additional revenues. Roschen noted that average U.S. citizens have had flat or reduced incomes, meaning tough choices are made, and that the city should also do more to see what can be cut.

Eric Boone suggested the city start charging user fees to cover costs for services that are not equally beneficial to all residents, like the senior center, ice arena and parks and fields.

Rick Carlson asked for and will receive from the assessor an explanation of how tax capacity and tax rates are calculated.

Jill Schwartz feels the city budget does not give good specifics about where the money is spent. She feels costs like the ice arena and BMX track should be user-funded instead of making all taxpayers pay for them. She also wants the budget posted online.

Hollee Saville had good things to say about living in St. Michael, but had questions about senior center, BMX, ice arena and Families and Youth Community Connections (FYCC) costs. She also suggested cutting back on newsletter mailings and/or posting the newsletter online to save money.

Mayor Jerry Zachman and councilors Nadine Schoen, Chris Schumm, Joe Marx and Kevin Kasel thanked all for their comments, noting that each councilor and staff has a different idea about how to save money and cut costs.

Marx said the city is in good financial shape, but there are certain needs and wants, and until development picks up again with additional revenue coming in, the council is focused on what is needed each year to keep tax increases to a minimum.

The council noted that staff is minimal and that there is a lot of aging equipment and infrastructure that needs to be repaired or replaced.

The council concluded that residents expect a certain level of services, and the council and staff are committed to providing those services at the most cost-effective level.

In other action, the council:

DIRECTED staff to set up League of Minnesota Cities Land Use Incentive Program training. Participating cities can reduce an insurance litigation claim.

HEARD that the city received a Certificate of Achievement for excellence in financial reporting for a seventh year in a row.

HEARD that several federal representatives working with the Interstate 94 coalition project sent letters to the Minnesota Department of Transportation letting them know that I-94 is a very important project and should be added to the 20-year transportation plan.

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