Wells citizens to see decrease in levy hike
Wells’ final tax levy increase for 2016 went from 42 percent in September slowly down over the past few months to 10.5 percent at last Monday’s City Council meeting.
Though the increase was reduced dramatically, citizens of Wells were still unimpressed and during the Truth in Taxation Hearing portion of the meeting, they vocalized their concerns for the entire council to hear.
Former council member Ashley Seedorf was first to speak and had multiple concerns about the cost-effectiveness of the current council’s budget and their ability to make cuts in the city’s budget.
Seedorf’s main point in her argument focused on the city administrator, Robin Leslie, and her capacity to do the city administrator job.
“On the agenda, I see Robin is asking for a raise. Why?” questioned Seedorf. “We hired two people to help Robin with her work. What is Robin doing? And now she wants a $15,000 raise, are you kidding me? We are Wells, we are not a gigantic city. We can’t afford it, there is no way.”
Seedorf continued to address the council stating that when Jeremy Germann was city administrator, he did not take a pay increase his entire time with the city of Wells.
“He did not take a raise because he knew that wouldn’t work with Wells’ budget. He took a hit. You have five people in the office now supposedly helping her, and Robin is never at the office. This puts us at a disadvantage when people need the city administrator. Think about this before you want to give her a raise.”
Seedorf stated to the council that she felt the council members were intimidated by Leslie’s presence and therefore shy to speak against Leslie’s plans and costs for the city.
“If you don’t like what she’s doing, say something. I think a lot of you just won’t say anything because you’re afraid to say differently,” said Seedorf.
Councilwoman Whitney Harig agreed that the pay increase did seem steep to her.
“But considering that Jeremy (Germann) had very little experience and Robin has much more experience and expertise, I would be happy with a five percent raise in January for her.”
The rest of the council agreed and, after the Truth in Taxation Hearing, approved the five percent increase for Leslie.
Bruce Mandler, owner of Wells Marketplace Foods, also gave his opinion to the council during the Truth in Taxation portion of the meeting.
“I challenge the council to go through the budget line by line to see where we can cut expenses. You are proposing 10 percent? Cut it back to five,” said Mandler. “Do better things with less money. We have to work harder. It’s just my challenge to you guys.”
Mayor Ron Gaines responded to Mandler by informing him most of the tax levy increase is to pay debts off from previous projects.
Last year, Wells’ final tax levy increase was 12.86 percent. From 2011 to 2014, Wells saw levy increases as low as 2.3 percent, but according to Leslie, accrued a large amount of debt, interest, and fees for loans.
“We are keeping the general revenue fund at zero percent. We are keeping the library fund at zero percent. We are giving our capital fund a 100 percent decrease. The only place the tax levy increase was raised was our debt service fund, which increased 44 percent” said Leslie.
The 2015 debt service total was $234,000, according to Leslie, and has increased to $335,764.
Since September, the City Council has had the budget on their meeting agenda and worked to decrease the debt levy increase each time.
“The thing is, we have 20 year bonds with street projects,” said councilman Steve Burns. “We have been paying that off for the last 10 years, and none of them have been paid off completely. That’s our problem right now. We are paying off our debts.”
The debt payments the city has accrued, according to Leslie, have gone up due to the United South Central street projects and a new fire truck to the city, which was in need of replacing.
“When Jeremy (Germann) was city administrator, he bonded for things that were less than half a million dollars. Those bonds accrued interest and fees which were probably too small of a number to bond in the first place. We now have to pay interest on those small bonds” said Leslie.
“I, honest to God, think we have gone as low as we possibly can go,” said Gaines.
Leslie also shared with those in attendance that Wells would be visited by an auditor within the coming week, which will give the city administrator an opportunity to consult with the auditors in hopes of getting more debts paid off.
“We have healthy reserves,” said Leslie. “I want to see if we can talk to a consultant to get those paid.”
The council approved the resolution for the 2016 tax levy increase after hearing from the public in attendance.
Before the council moved on, however, councilwoman Harig had something to say.
“The city administrator is a tough job. She gets non-stop calls of people harassing her, swearing at her and that should not be a part of anybody’s job, but sometimes she has to be the bad guy. She’s following the law and she is following our city’s ordinances,” said Harig.
“We, as a council, need to do a better job at educating the community and informing you where and when you have your voices heard before the last minute. It is my goal to do a better job at that, but it also takes effort on your part, too.
“We have city boards with positions open on those boards. We got four applicants. The community needs to step up, too. It is unfair to the progress of Wells for the community to show up last minute and vent frustrations at us when we have been having planning meetings all along. You need to take responsibility for your community, too. We are not up here to do it by ourselves, we need feedback before the 11th hour,” Harig told the crowd.
The City Council also:
Heard from USC Superintendent Jerry Jensen on the progression of the contaminated soil situation at the old school site.
After finding that the old school site was filled with inappropriate material, the school did a soil test at the old school site, which did not pass, holding up the selling of land parcels.
“In our opinion, the contractor we hired is at fault,” said Jensen. “It is our intention to take care of this matter.”
Appointed a new police officer Michael Johnson, after the resignation of Scott DiLorenzo, to a full-time night position.
Appointed council members to committees for 2016.
Set the next regular City Council meeting for Monday, Jan. 11, 2016 at 5 p.m.