How much of an increase will there be in the Blue Earth city property tax levy next year?
The exact number isn't yet a sure thing.
But, one thing is for sure. It won't be more than a 6.7 percent hike.
At Tuesday's regular meeting, the City Council voted unanimously to set the levy at $1.2 million, which is an increase of 6.7 percent from last year's amount.
However, the council will set an actual levy amount at their first meeting in December. When they do so, by state law it cannot be more than the 6.7 percent figure.
But, it can be lower.
At their work session before the regular meeting began, the council studied a proposed budget for 2013 that shows a property tax levy amount of $1,165,652.
That is just a 3.64 percent increase over the current year.
Mayor Rob Hammond says by factoring in expiring T.I.F. districts and an increase in tax base due to new houses, the actual increase would be closer to 3 percent. Hammond and councilman Rick Scholtes presented the budget which they had created using figures from City Administrator Kathy Bailey and financial consultant Doug Green of Springsted, Inc.
"This is a fairly conservative budget," Hammond says. "Anybody looking at locating in Blue Earth will see that we are consistent in our taxes."
Scholtes says the budget shows a modest 3 percent increase in most departments. However, the police department budget shows over a $50,000 increase which includes adding another full-time officer.
The budget includes a $50,000 transfer form the liquor store fund and assumes that state Local Government Aid will remain the same.
Also staying in place is the levy amount reserved for the street fund approximately $187,000.
"We took out this year's budgeted amount of $80,000 for the Putnam Park shelter, but put back in $10,000 for playground equipment," Scholtes says.
One area that was cut instead of being increased was the library fund.
The library has been running part of the county library system, providing materials to three smaller community libraries.
The compensation from the county has not covered all of that cost. Since the county does not plan any increases for three years, Bailey says she asked the library to trim back.
She also says the city may ask the county to renegotiate the contract.
"We can't be having Blue Earth citizens subsidizing other communities libraries," Scholtes says. "It needs to cover the actual costs."
Instead of setting the levy increase at the amount suggested by the budget, the council members decided to increase it more, then find out what the actual final budget shows for a necessary revenue amount.
They decided to put the levy back to roughly the 2011 amount before it was cut for 2012 rounding out the actual $1,197,736 number to $1.2 million.
"This will give us plenty of room," Hammond says. "We can always go down from here."
In other business at Tuesday's meeting, the council decided to move their next meeting, scheduled for Monday, Sept. 17, to a different venue the Public Safety Building.
The reason the council will be holding three public hearings as part of their regular meeting and they expect more visitors than what will fit in their regular council chambers at City Hall.
One of the public hearings will be concerning the proposed property tax assessments for the Galbraith, 10th and 11th streets street/utility project.
Another hearing will concern changes to the downtown sign ordinance, which will bring it in line with actual business size requirements.
The current ordinance reads signs cannot be ,ore than 4 feet by 10 feet. The proposed changes reads that signs can be up to 20 percent of the wall space available.
The third concerns rezoning the central downtown business district.
The current zoning ordinance restricts the size of buildings in the downtown area, City Attorney David Frundt noted, making it difficult for anyone to construct a building on any of the vacant lots in the downtown area.
It was also noted that there is a restriction on buildings being only two stories, or under 30 feet tall.
That restriction would be eliminated.