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Wells preliminary levy hike at 42.14%

By Staff | Oct 4, 2015

Though it was emphasized it is only a starting number, the Wells City Council set their preliminary tax levy increase at 42.14 percent.

Last year’s final tax levy was a total of 12.86 percent increase, and with a number of projects on their mind, the council will possibly be looking at a similar number for 2016.

City administrator Robin Leslie stated in a memo shared in the Wells City Council packet for the Sept. 25 meeting that there were a number of items to consider in formulating the preliminary and final levy numbers.

Some of those items include an average 2.2 percent increase for full-time contracted employees and a minimum wage increase to $9.50 in August of 2016.

That, along with a new City Hall roof project, and the possibility of replacing both a Bobcat skidsteer and a street sweeper has risen the preliminary levy percentage quite a bit.

“Let it be known that this is all very preliminary,” said council member Steve Burns. “We still have time to muddle through this until December’s final levy. We have plenty of wiggle room.”

The council does have multiple budget and input sessions before their recently changed December meeting. The final budget was to be approved by Dec. 14 but that meeting has now been moved up to Dec. 7.

“I think it is best that we start with this high number of 42.1 percent,” said councilman John Herman,?”and chip away at it rather than be short later on.”

It was a shocking number to council members but all agreed that they would rather see a high number go down than be short much like budgets in the past.

Leslie told the council there will be more debt added to their already hefty load of pre-existing debt.

The debt service for next year is proposed at $350,000, which Leslie shares is, unfortunately, not a made up number.

“The actual number is $319,000, but I have increased it because of the possibility of a bond debt increase over next year,” said Leslie. She also told the council that the general revenue took a 33 percent increase from the 2015 final levy numbers.

If those concerns were not big enough for the City Council, the projects proposed for 2016 may do it. Leslie stated the City Hall is in dire need of roof repair, along with the replacement of not only a Bobcat that is used in winter, but a city street sweeper is on its way out as well.

That being said, the capital equipment costs are estimated at $160,000. Leslie said her estimates on the roof project would be around $30,000, as well as the new Bobcat, while the cost of a new street sweeper would run the city of Wells $100,000.

“The Bobcat, we hope, will make it through the winter, though it is already having issues,” said Leslie. “And the street sweeper should have been replaced this year, but we didn’t have the money in the budget.”

Leslie’s plan B for the machinery costs proposed for 2016 was to space out the expenses further, planning to space out the machine’s expenses in the budget from this past year and into 2016, 2017 and possibly even 2018.

“We have a very healthy reserve balance, so maybe once we get to the final budget, things will shake out a little better,” said Leslie.

Though most council members were fairly quiet when the numbers were being announced for the preliminary budget, there was agreement that the projects proposed by Leslie were necessary for the city.

“In the past, we had very low percentages of levy increases and that was a mistake,” said Leslie. “If you don’t keep up on maintenance and equipment, it catches up with you, which is what we are experiencing now.”

Leslie also told the council that in years past, specifically 2014-15, the city’s debt was not being budgeted for properly either, which caused a 13 percent levy increase last year.

The City Council also awarded several farmland leases to multiple bidders. There were four sealed bids, and several farmers present to bid at the meeting.

With four parcels to bid on, all four were awarded by the council.

Parcel one, at approximately 46.6 acres abutting the Wells Rifle range went for $205 per acre. Parcel two also went for $205, which was 24 acres near the north industrial park. Parcel three, which had 15 acres near the municipal airport, went for $175 an acre and parcel four, which is less than three tillable acres near the West Meadow subdivision went for $135.

The City Council will have their next regular meeting on Oct. 12 at 5 p.m.