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Blue Earth levy increase could be lowered from 22 to 3 percent

By Staff | Nov 10, 2008

The proposed property tax levy increase for the City of Blue Earth could be at three percent if the council follows the lead of City Administrator Kathy Bailey.

A 22 percent levy increase had first been proposed in September, but at last Monday’s meeting, Bailey suggested the much lower amount.

Even the three percent bump is more than is needed to balance next year’s budget. However, Bailey feels there is a strong argument for the increase.

“The state could be cutting our LGA (local government aid) in order to cover a projected revenue shortfall,” she says. “If they do, it could mean a big hit to our budget.”

Bailey says the city may not know until later in December what the state will do. Blue Earth receives over $700,000 in LGA payments.

“If the state doesn’t cut the LGA, then I propose we put the levy increase into the street fund,” she says.

Depending on how much the state would cut out of the funds the city gets, other items in the budget may have to be cut, Bailey says. She presented a list of possible budget cuts to the council.

Among the items which could get the ax next year were a new police squad car and computer monitors.

Bailey also proposed setting all salary increases at the same three percent amount. No other pay increases for department heads would be given.

An item on her list was to take $50,000 from the liquor store reserve to fund a new shelter and other items at Putnam Park.

“I think in the future we could use liquor store profits to fund city park projects,” Bailey says.

She also suggests decreasing the police department by one officer, in the next year or two.

“It is not something we would do right away,” she says. “We would not let anyone go, just not replace an officer in the future.” Her plan calls for the police chief to do more of the patrolling.

Bailey says a three percent hike in the levy would bring in $80,293. The levy would increase from $1,275,700 this year, to $1,313,971 in 2009.

The most recent version of the proposed 2009 budget actually would call for a levy amount of $1,233,678, a decrease from 2008.

At a work session before the regular meeting, Bailey and the council went over a capital improvement list with Public Works Supervisor Dick Lamont.

The list of proposed new equipment included a mower-tractor at $28,000, street and sewer vacuum unit at $45,000, a plow at $14,000 and a used street sweeper for $97,000.

Also on the list was a small pickup truck for $12,000, and playground equipment at $10,000. Lamont says both of these items are for the park, and could be cut out of the budget for next year if necessary.

The proposed 2009 budget does have $206,000 listed for capital outlay in the public works department.

Lamont and the council discussed in detail the pros and cons of the city doing all of their own mowing.

Currently it takes two seasonal employees, and two mowers, to keep up with the 135 acres the city mows, Lamont says. The cost to the city is close to $35,000 per year the public works supervisor figures.

“There is one company which contracts to do the mowing for Wells and Winnebago,” he told the council.

They asked Lamont to research the cost of having the mowing done on a contract basis, versus the city doing their own.

The council will continue their budget work sessions this month, meeting on Monday afternoons at 4:30 p.m.