By Terry Lehrke, News Editor
While Council Members Mike Menden, Matt Bell and Don Bujalski, voiced some concerns during Monday’s public hearing over whether the city’s levy should be raised a bit, the final vote was unanimous for a 0 percent increase.
“I don’t want to raise taxes, but I don’t want to run out of money,” said Menden. “A 2.5 percent increase would raise $7,012.88. That’s an $11.98 increase on property taxes.”
He said if the city chose to wait five years to contract for improvements on Peter Avenue, it would be so bad, “It will be like going down the street in a horse and buggy.”
Mayor Toby Egan said the city could approach the levy in a couple of ways. “The fastest and easiest way is to increase the levy,” he said. “But, is that the right way to do it?
“In my opinion, the city has more cash on hand than it has in a long time. We’re paying off debt and if we pay off the debt we can move projects up,” he said.
Improvements on Peter Avenue and the north part of Summer Street, he said, would not be a reality for next year. “Maybe the year after we can deal with one of these projects,” he said. Peter Avenue is located just east of the Pierz Villa and Summer Street is just west of the Pierz Ballroom.
Residents, said Menden, are not happy about fees, calling them just a tax, such as a fee that may be put in place to cover the cost of mosquito spraying.
“I’m not in favor of fees on the water/light bill,” he said.
Bell said as a business owner, his costs have gone up, and so too, the city’s costs have gone up.
“The cost of employees is going up. Three years ago employees went up a step, and cost the city $8,000 a year, that’s an additional $24,000 in labor,” he said. “We’re looking at giving employees another $1 an hour. Just looking at the insurance stipend and employee increases is $84,000 over the last six years, money that is not recouped.”
Egan said at a certain time the city would be forced to raise taxes, but, he said, “Every dollar we take out of our residents’ hands, is $1 less to spend in town at businesses.”
Any type of tax increase puts a hardship on the community. “Let’s continue cutting where we can and be as responsible as we can,” said Egan.
Council Member Stephanie Fyten said that while the city’s single biggest cost is its employees, “They are also our biggest asset,” she said.
Bell said his own property taxes went down 16 percent.
City Administrator Anna Gruber explained the lower property tax is due to increases in the property tax base. “If the property tax base increases, taxes for everyone go down,” she said.
Council Member Don Bujalski said he worried about a possible property purchase wiping out one-third of the city’s reserves. (The city may look at purchasing property near the golf course, possibly a new clubhouse and expansion).
“A land purchase deal will not come out of the levy, it will come from the Golf Course Fund and Electric Fund,” said Egan.
“I want that today, too,” said Egan. “I want new streets for everyone, a new fire hall, police hall and city hall. People are living on a tight budget. If the city can’t live on a budget like everyone else, we’ve got a big problem.”
“We also have to make sure that five years from now we don’t say we wish we had raised the levy 2.5 percent,” said Bujalski.
Local government aid (LGA) was another question for Menden. “LGA is half of our budget,” he said. This year, Pierz is expecting an additional $40,000 in LGA, as approved by the Legislature.
“If LGA goes away, cities in the state will fold, not just Pierz,” said Egan. “We can’t ask people to pay more, because we can’t manage it here.”
Menden said he didn’t want to raise the levy, but he’d rather pay $11 – $12 a year every other year, than $200 in one year.
“I don’t understand that,” said Egan. “We’re sitting on probably twice as much money as we were 10 years ago and the departments are all well-funded.”
According to its budget, the city is $100,000 in the black after figuring in the increase in LGA and tax increment financing revenue. Without those items, the city would be $33,000 in the black.
Resident Lynn Egan reminded the Council that residents near road project zones this summer will have assessments to pay as well. “Remember that when you think about raising taxes,” she said.
The 2014 preliminary levy, set for the seventh year at $280,515, will be certified to the county by Sept. 15. It cannot be increased once it is certified.
“We’re doing the right thing, trust me,” said Egan. “I understand we can’t keep doing this forever. Our costs are increasing, there’s no doubt about it.”
Pierz City Council Briefs
In other business Monday, the Pierz City Council:
• Tabled a decision on whether to renew the first right of refusal agreement with Dura Supreme, since no one representing Dura Supreme was present;
• Approved transferring a loan from the Small Cities Development Program grant from Leon Flicker to his daughter, who will now own his home. The Council agreed to the transfer only because Flicker will continue to live in the home;
• Received “thank you” notes from several residents for the mosquito spraying; and
• Heard from Police Chief Eric Hanneken that a drop-off site for medications will be located at City Hall.
The next Pierz City Council meeting is Monday, Aug. 26, at 7 p.m. at City Hall.