After many weekly work sessions, the Blue Earth City Council is nearing the end of fine-tuning the 2012 budget.
And, it appears the council will have good news for citizens when the final property tax levy is set this week or next.
The council had previously set a preliminary levy hike of 11 percent – a figure which appears on tax statements recently sent out to every property owner by the county.
After a two-hour budget work session last Monday night, the council was looking at a budget that might translate into a much lower levy increase possibility.
In fact, there might be no levy increase at all – or even the possibility that the levy could decrease.
One budget revision studied Monday would mean the levy increase would be a modest half percent instead of the proposed 11 percent.
That bud-get would include several items council members wanted put back in to the 2012 version. Those include reinstating two police officers for Friday and Saturday nights, paint for striping streets and iPads for the council.
It also includes $80,000 for a new picnic shelter at Putnam Park.
The council did discuss several options for funding the shelter.
One was to take the $80,000 cost out of the excess money in the liquor store fund.
If the council removes the cost from the general fund, it would translate into a positive balance in the budget and the 2012 levy could actually decrease by six percent, City Administrator Kathy Bailey says.
Another possibility would be to fund half of the cost, $40,000, with liquor store funds.
Bailey says that amount could remain in the budget and be used to purchase leaf collection equipment, something the council also discussed.
However, several members of the council wanted the city to investigate using large paper bags for leaf collection.
Homeowners would purchase the bags and fill them, with the city doing the collection of the bags and hauling them to the burn site.
The council also discussed an application for a DNR grant which would fund the picnic shelter.
“I don’t think we can count on that,” Councilman John Gartzke says. “We got the one this year for Steinberg Park and they don’t usually fund the same city two years in a row.”
Mayor Rob Hammond reminded the council that at the next meeting, Monday, Dec. 5, the public will be able to voice their opinions on the budget and levy.
“We also need to be prepared to vote yes or no on the items we have discussed tonight,” Hammond says.
The council spent much time going over two areas of the budget last Monday – the library and the public works department.
Librarian Eva Gaydon was at the meeting to explain the line items.
The library budget shows revenues of $74,088 and expenditures of $179,275.
“The city is mandated by the state to furnish a certain amount of ‘maintenance of effort’ funds for the library,” Bailey says. “That amount is expected to be $105,807, so we are on target.”
Jamison Holland, Blue Earth’s public works supervisor, went over his portion of the city budget.
Holland concentrated on explaining future possible capital equipment purchases.
Those could include a tractor for $35,000, a loader for $27,000, street painting equipment for $30,000 and leaf collection equipment for $30,000 in 2012.
Holland says only the tractor and loader are urgently required.
Councilmen discussed the possibility of issuing an equipment bond and having the money available for several years worth of equipment purchase needs.
The plan had already been discussed to bond for a grader and a new shop building in 2013 with the payments spread out over several years time.
Two weeks ago the council discussed other portions of the budget at a work session, including the fire department, liquor store, airport and wastewater department.
The fire department budget runs $176,126 in the 2012 budget.
Fire Chief Roger Davis reported that there is a need to purchase a new water tanker truck. Blue Earth operates with the least amount of carried water in the county, he says.
Liquor store manager Don Adams reported the store projects sales to be $1,339,705 with cost of sales (liquor purchases) at $991,854.
Bailey reported the airport has revenues of $78,214 with expenditures of $70,806.
The stormwater account shows a positive balance at this time but Bailey says bond payments will draw that amount down quickly.