BY SUE WEBBER
As the Rogers City Council discusses the city’s 2015 budget, there will be a variety of wish-list items to consider, including an apparently pressing need for two additional police officers.
At the council’s work session, City Administrator Steve Stahmer and Finance Director Lisa Wieland gave an overview of the proposed tax levy for 2015.
The city is looking at a preliminary levy of $6.7 million, up from last year’s $6.25 million levy, or a 7.45 percent increase. The general fund operating levy is projected at $4.5 million, up almost 4 percent from 2014.
Weiland said the plan for Rogers in 2015 was to have a “relatively flat tax rate, and to live within the growth of the economy and new homes.” She said a 2.5 percent inflation increase was built into expenses across the board. On the revenue side, a half-percent less increase in revenue was built in.
“It’s important to our residents to count on a stable tax rate,” Wieland said.
Mayor Jay Bunting said a 7.45 percent increase in the tax levy is “relatively flat,” because there would be no addition of full-time employees or increases in costs beyond inflation.
“I don’t want to see us shortchanging ourselves to save 50 cents or $1 per month,” Bunting said. “While I’m cognizant of Rogers’ tax rate, for me, a fairly small change isn’t something that most people will notice.”
Bunting said Rogers has always budgeted “very conservatively.” But sometimes it has been necessary to take money out of the reserve fund, he said.
“We’ve always had some amount of excess funds at the end of the year,” Bunting said. “I’m confident with taking money out of reserves. History has shown us that we can generally make it up.”
But some areas of concern will be discussed before the preliminary tax levy is set Sept. 9. After that date, the levy can be reduced, but it cannot be increased.
The council’s goal-setting session in February established that the number one goal was to increase police staffing, perhaps in 2016, Stahmer said. However, now the city is considering the addition of two police officers in 2015, rather than delaying that move until 2016, as had been planned.
Stahmer pointed out that annual salary and benefits will total between $93,000 and $95,000 per officer.
2 new officers
Police Chief Jeff Beahen said the Rogers Police Department received 11,264 total calls for service in 2012. Through June of this year, he said, 9,294 calls have been received. He is predicting that the city will receive 20,000 calls for service in 2015.
“We’ve seen a phenomenal increase in calls for service,” Beahen said. “We are handling what Corcoran and Osseo handle without [Rogers having] additional personnel.”
The Rogers Police Department currently has 16 full-time officers, one full-time Community Service Officer (CSO) and two part-time CSOs.
Part I and II crimes in Rogers totaled 776 for 2013, and are projected at 898 for 2014, a 15 percent increase.
“These are significant increases,” Beahen said.
(Part I crimes as defined by the Federal Bureau of Investigation are murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft and arson. Part II crimes include all other offenses, juvenile offenses and traffic violations.)
Of 34 law enforcement agencies in Hennepin County, Rogers had the eighth highest crime rate in 2013, just below Minneapolis, according to Beahen “That’s actual; that’s real,” Beahen said. In addition, he said, Rogers ranks 19th out of 34 for criminal offense court files opened in 2013 in Hennepin County, 17th in fines assessed, 18th in traffic citations issued, and 18th in traffic fines assessed.
“The good news is that very little of our crime is related to our residents,” Beahen said. “Almost all of our serious crime is related to the business community, specifically our retail industry.”
“Compared to other cities our size, either in this area or in out-state areas, we have challenges that other communities do not,” Beahen said. Those include, he said, a large commercial/industrial development with high traffic flows; large big-box retail stores; high school, middle school and two grade schools; interstate freeway with a major intersection and a heavily-traveled state highway; heavy weekend and daily traffic patterns; and higher than normal call for service.
The department handled 269 reportable accidents (out of 614 total) in 2013, more than most other cities the size of Rogers, Beahen said. Each accident takes at least two hours of work, and some required the services of more than one officer.
The city currently has two officers working per shift.
Rogers does not have a police investigator, and one is needed, Beahen said. Of the 34 law enforcement agencies in Hennepin County, Rogers is one of four without their own investigator. The others are Dayton, Corcoran and Osseo.
“Outside of Hennepin County, there are no police agencies anywhere else in Minnesota the size of Rogers P.D. that do not have their own investigator,” he said.
Alternatives to increasing police department staffing, Beahen said, would be to determine if there are calls the department would no longer respond to; require residents to report crimes on a website; recruit unpaid volunteers to perform some duties; privatize police services; share assets with other agencies; reduce wages, subject to union negotiations; or assess fees for response to calls.
Rogers Fire Chief Brad Feist said that department, too, is experiencing an increase in the number of calls it receives. The department has 39 members, and Feist said his goal is to have 50 members by 2017.
“We should never be below 45 trained members for a community our size,” Feist said, noting that it takes two years to get a firefighter trained.
“We have to operate at a different level than we’ve done the past 30 years,” Feist said. “Calls aren’t going down. They’re continuing to go up. We’re not Maple Grove or Elk River, but we’re going in that direction.”
New computers are needed for the city’s fire trucks because the current models are outdated. “To replace them is a lot of money,” Feist said. “A lot of departments are going to iPads in the trucks.”
John Seifert, the city’s Public Works supervisor, said the biggest impact in his department’s budget is capital projects, such as parks and trails that are being built out. Some additional staffing may be needed in parks and maintenance, Seifert said.
The pavement management program is being accomplished through a combination of levy, taxes, assessments and franchise fees, according to Seifert.
How does Rogers compare?
Stahmer noted that Rogers’ property tax rate still remains less than nine other area cities, including Dayton, Rockford, Hanover, Albertville, Elk River, Corcoran, Otsego, St. Michael and Monticello.
In 2014, Rogers’ final property tax rate of 40.54 percent was lower than all of the other cities, or 19 percent below the area average. The average city tax rate in Hennepin County is 45 percent, Stahmer said.
“We get hit harder than any city around in fiscal disparities,” Stahmer said. “Without it, our rate would be 34 percent. We lose 15 to 20 cents of each dollar.”
Of the 44 cities in Hennepin County, 24 have a higher tax rate than Rogers, and 19 cities have a lower rate.
For 2014, a $250,000 home in Rogers had a city-only tax bill of $901, again the lowest of all the other nine cities in the comparison. The actual tax bill on a $250,000 Rogers home in 2014 included another $3,860 levied by the school district and county, Stahmer said.
Hennepin County tax information will not be fixed until the end of the year, Wieland said. “Each time we cut the levy to bring the tax rate down below the previous year we lose fiscal disparities, and it takes two years to get them back,” Wieland said.
The owner of a $300,000 home had a city-only tax bill of $1,110, also the lowest of all 10 cities.
The city portion of the total tax bills for Rogers residents ranges from 23.3 percent to 35.8 percent, Stahmer said.
“A very small portion of the tax bill is related to cities,” Stahmer said.
The Fiscal Disparities Program will reduce the city’s taxable tax capacity by $2.9 million, or 15.69 percent, Stahmer said. It increases the city’s property tax rate by 19 percent, but results in a $1.167 million loss in city revenue.
Rogers gives $2.8 million to the seven-county metropolitan area revenue-sharing plan, but is one of the top two “largest net losers” when it comes to getting money back, Stahmer said.