LF Council gives itself a little wiggle room for 2013 levy

Council approves 7.89 percent increase for 2013 preliminary levy with intent to work its way down

By Terry Lehrke, News Editor

The Little Falls City Council had three preliminary levy options for 2013 Monday night — increases of A) 4.05 percent; B) 6.36 percent or C) 7.89 percent.

It chose the 7.89 percent increase with the intent to decrease that amount as much as possible.

A preliminary levy must be certified to the county by Sept. 15 and a final levy by Dec. 28. From the time a preliminary levy is certified until the final levy is certified, the levy numbers may not be increased. They may, however, be reduced and that, the Council said, is what it intends to do.

Finance Officer Lori Kasella told the Council that its debt service for 2013 — money the city owes for past projects — is $1.724 million. That is debt that must be paid and makes up nearly half of the $3.51 million total approved preliminary levy.

If the Council had chosen the 4.05 percent increase ($3.389 million) preliminary levy, its debt service would make up more than half of the levy.

On the bright side, the city’s debt service levy requirements begin to decrease in 2014. In 2014, that number will be $1.653 million; 2015 – $1.654 million; 2016 – $1.355 million; 2017 – $1.337 million and 2018 – $1.29 million.

Those numbers are contingent upon no additional spending added during those years.

All three levy proposals included the cost of a full-time administrator in the city’s budget.

Dan Vogt, the city’s interim city administrator, told the Council if it approved the lowest possible option, the 4.05 percent increase, the city would be able to pay a full-time administrator, but do nothing else.

He suggested setting the preliminary levy higher and working to cut it back during budget meetings.

“Don’t tie yourselves up with a lower preliminary levy,” Vogt said.

“A levy increase doesn’t equate to the same percent of property tax increase,” Kasella told the Council.

Many factors come into play on property taxes, such as school district, county, home valuation and more, she said.

“It’s not very often for the tax levy to be the same increase as property taxes,” she said.

“Let’s go for option C (7.89 percent increase) and bring it down,” said Council President Don Klinker.

Councilman Frank Gosiak noted that in 2011, the Council voted for a 2012 preliminary levy increase of 9 percent.

“We brought it down to 6.88 percent,” he said. “A lot of the levy comes from (money spent in) previous years.”

The Council also approved an 8.7 percent increase in its budget for 2013 — $9.8 million, up from the final $9.02 million set for 2012. The intent is to reduce this figure as well.

“The Council has always been good about setting a high levy and bringing it down,” said Kasella.

Vogt suggested paring down the number of budget meetings to a minimal number to figure out how to reduce the budget and levy. He suggested three at the most, leaving a bulk of the work to himself and city staff.

The Council vote on the preliminary levy and budget was 7-1, since Council Member At Large Brian-Paul Crowder was absent and as such, his vote was considered a “no” vote.

A public hearing will be held Monday, Dec. 3, at 7:30 p.m. regarding the city’s budget and levy. The Council will approve its final levy and budget at that time.

The city’s final levy must be certified to the county by Dec. 28.

Little Falls City Council Briefs

Other business was conducted by the Little Falls City Council Monday, in the absence of Council Member At Large Brian-Paul Crowder. In the event that a council member is absent, the absent member’s vote is considered a “no” vote on resolutions and ordinances and a non-vote on other issues. The Council:

• During its work session, decided to ask for City Attorney Toni Wetzel’s advice on a request from Habitat for Humanity to purchase Blocks 1 – 8 in the subdivision of Searles Addition at a cost of $46,000 or $5,750 per lot, because the city’s policy states building must commence within 18 months of purchase, except in cases of extenuating circumstances. Habitat for Humanity builds one home per year. The property is located in Southwest Little Falls;

• Approved the installation of an 800 megahertz antenna on the water tower on the east side of the city, with no annual fee to be charged to Morrison County and also authorized the city to pay the electricity costs up to $4,000 per year for the antenna and related equipment;

• Approved a change in the city’s health insurance agreement with the National Joint Powers Alliance outlining a statutory timeline for voluntary membership withdrawal, ie: Aug. 1 for groups renewing Jan. 1, and penalties for withdrawing within a five-month time frame. In addition the city will drop its contract with Ron Bieganek Insurance as a local agent, since information is available to employees electronically. The Council also approved health insurance renewal for 2013 at $556.44 for single coverage (2.74 percent increase) and $1,475.16 for family coverage (4.53 percent increase). The current rate is $451.62 for single and $1,411.20 for family coverage;

• Approved 6-1 to assign the collection of solid waste agreement with Lee Jorgenson, owner of Otremba Disposal, to Tim and Carol Luberts of Pierz, who are purchasing the business, and to approve a refuse license for them. Mayor Cathy VanRisseghem voted no, because she said at the time the contract was approved, Bob LeMieur Rolloffs, Refuse and Recycling, whose owners are residents of Little Falls, had requested to be allowed a part of the contract and had been refused. She felt the authorization should be kept with people who are residents of Little Falls;

• Approved awarding Tri-City Paving of Little Falls, the low bidder at $57,007.55, the job of sidewalk improvements throughout the city;

• Approved awarding the low bidder, Country Line Welding out of Albany at $52,200.64, the job of structural repairs at the city’s pretreatment facility;

• Approved two of three funding requests made by Kristina VonBerge, executive director of the Little Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB). The approved requests were $1,567 plus tax for 25,000 tri-fold brochures from Spectrum Marketing Services and $1,610 for the updating of the CVB Web site by SAS Design Haus, both to be paid for out of the city-held tourism funds. The third request, $989.40 for bike racks at the CVB from Highland Products Group, Boca Raton, Fla. to be taken from the Rosenmeier Property Fund was not approved, because Council Member Frank Gosiak felt the cost was too high and volunteered to donate his time to make a bike rack for the CVB. Gosiak said that fund should be used for refurbishing the house. It was noted the city’s tourism fund balance was approximately $60,000 and the cash balance for the Rosenmeier Property Fund was at approximately $13,000;

• Authorized by resolution on a 7-1 vote, the acquisition of a lot in Thayer’s Addition from John and Julie Bobrowske at a cost of $38,000 plus $1,000 in closing costs. The Bobrowskes originally wanted $50,000 for the lot. The city wanted to purchase the lot because a variance allowed in the past, made the setback from the property lines of the two properties on either side of the lot less than the 10 feet required. The city may sell 10 feet of its lot to the property owners on either side, bringing the setbacks in compliance, recouping the costs expended in the purchase. The remainder of the lot may also be sold;

• By resolution and a 7-1 vote, appointed Dan Vogt, interim city administrator, as the responsible authority for the city. Vogt noted that the responsible authority for the city was for data practices information only. He noted about 20 requests for information have been made since his arrival two weeks earlier, Aug. 27;

• Authorized by resolution and a 7-1 vote, the submittal of a grant application to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to the beneficial use ethanol set-aside grant, partnering with the Central Minnesota Ethanol Cooperative, for the purpose of reducing the use of ground water by utilizing treated wastewater;

• Accepted Mark Gerbi’s resignation from the Youth Task Force and Mayor Cathy VanRisseghem appointments of new members Becca Swisher, Christina Johnson, David Meyer, Gabriel Meyer and Sam Muehlbauer; and

• Approved the mayor’s appointments to the Community Recreation Task Force including resident Jon Vetter, Councilman Frank Gosiak; and at-large representatives Dustin Simmons and Pastor Keith Thompson. Gosiak abstained from the vote.

The next meeting for the Little Falls City Council will be held Monday, Sept. 17, at 7:30 p.m., in Council Chambers at City Hall. Prior to this meeting, the Council will hold a work session, beginning at 6:30 p.m. in the conference room.