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Preliminary BE 2020 budget has 8.9% hike

By Staff | Sep 8, 2019

The Blue Earth City Council spent a majority of their meeting last Tuesday night discussing items connected with a proposed 2020 budget.

The council will be setting their preliminary budget and a possible tax levy increase at their second meeting in September.

The current budget the council worked on last night would call for an 8.9 percent tax levy increase to make it balanced. However, the council already was discussing various ways to lower even that preliminary amount. And it was noted that the 8.9 figure is 4 percent lower than the preliminary levy increase number from last year.

A final budget and levy will not be set until later in December. Generally, that final budget and levy increase is much lower than the initial one set in September.

One item under discussion at last Tuesday’s meeting was $30,000 for improvements to the Third Ward Park. The council discussed whether it makes sense to improve the park before the adjoining street is finished being reconstructed next year.

“I think we could put $15,000 away for the park in this budget, then add another $15,000 the next year,” Mayor Rick Scholtes said. “Then do the park project in 2021.”

Since every $12,000 added or subtracted from the budget results in an increase or decrease in the levy increase, the council was already finding ways to lower the levy.

Councilman Glenn Gaylord questioned keeping up with maintenance at all the city parks.

“I’m not complaining about our city crew, but I wonder if they can manage with all the work needed to keep the parks up,” Gaylord said. “There are so many things they need to do.”

Some other council members thought the crews were handling all the park maintenance, and city administrator Tim Ibisch said he had heard no complaints about the mowing not being done on a timely basis by the hired contractor.

Gaylord said he had noticed that the trails around Putnam Park needed attention.

Other budget items under discussion included a 7.5 percent increase in employees health care cost, a possible increase in recycling costs in the future and increasing the HRA (Housing and Rehabilitation Authority) budget for possible housing construction.

The council also spent their work session discussing the fire department budget for next year with fire chief Roger Davis.

That proposed budget was at $283,220, up from $274,100 for 2019. However, it was discussion only and no firm numbers have been set yet.

Some of the items in that budget included $80,000 for capitol expenses. The council also noted that the five year plan calls for purchasing a new fire truck in 2023. That new truck could cost as much as $550,000, so the council was already planning on how to fund the purchase.

Another budget item was $40,000 for a new police squad vehicle.

The council questioned whether a high-end vehicle was necessary. They discussed some other models that are on the list of available squads, and one was at $32,000.

The council also discussed possibly leasing a police vehicle in the future, but no definite decisions were made at the work session.

Some of the other budget discussion concerned a $4,000 line item for the elections in 2020, and a needed repair to the picnic shelter at Putnam Park.

In other business, the council:

Heard an update from city engineer Wes Brown which included information on the Sailor Street Reconstruction Project.

One issue had to do with installing a new sewer line.

“We thought we could just line it, but now we have to replace it,” Brown said. “The cost will be $3,000 to $4,000, plus the cost of replacing some shrubs.”

The shrubs run along the back side of one of the property owners being affected by the project. They will have to be removed to put in the new sewer line.

Brown says they have informed the owner of the need to remove the bushes and have been discussing how to replace them.

Voted to give a resident a $130 credit on his wastewater sewer bill due to an outside faucet being left on, and the water not running into the sewer main.

Granted a gambling permit to the Legion Auxillary for a raffle.

Briefly discussed a house in the Upper Valley Drive area and learned that only a building permit for a roof project has been granted so far.

The council instructed staff to continue to monitor whether any other permits are requested for the other work the city has listed as needing to be done.

Discussed a request from a person who was interested in reserving one of the lots in the new housing development. The council decided that a $500 non-refundable reservation fee would be charged.