Wells levy increase set at 5.76%
The city of Wells has adopted its final 2020 tax levy. Members of its City Council discussed and adopted the 5.76 percent increase during their regular December meeting held last Monday, Dec. 9.
Earlier in the year, a preliminary levy was set at 10.8 percent, but with a diligent city staff, they were able to whittle the final tax levy to 5.8 percent. The city has proposed a 2020 levy consisting of $703,370 in their General Revenue Fund, an increase of $67,422 from last year; $70,000 in the library fund, an increase of $2,000; a $35,550 increase in the capital fund from $27,000 to $62,500; and a decrease of $36,074 in the city’s debt service fund which is levied at $428,030 this year, compared to last year’s $464,104.
The largest amount to be spent within the 2020 budget is a pay equity study for city hall staff that has a price tag of $32,000.
“I’m proud of the fact that the city is investing in their employees. There’s no piece of equipment or anything that we have that is worth more to us than the people that help us every day,” said city administrator CJ Holl. “It’s a significant investment in our folks out there. We are working on finishing that out. From an amount that we are budgeting out there, there’s no greater impact than the folks who work for our city. We have a great staff and we should be investing in them. It’s the right thing to do.”
Other planned budget highlights include some dollars set aside for city park upgrades including soccer nets, new picnic tables, upgrades to a swing set at Half Moon Park, and continued maintenance on the city’s scout house which was noted earlier in the year to have some issues with the roof. Plus $16,000 is scheduled for a new ladder truck for the Wells Fire Department, and a few street projects to come in the summer of 2020 including seal coating both the Wells Business Park and Sixth Street, not to mention a proposed $39,000 Fourth Street resurfacing project. Computer upgrades for Wells City Hall are also slated for the budget, as well as new carpeting and tile for the Wells Flame Theater. The street department also hopes to be able to get a new snowblower and mower, with trade ins.
The city’s levy for 2020 is the lowest its been in six years.
2019’s final levy was set at 8.9 percent, while 2018’s levy was a whopping 12.5 percent. In 2017, the city approved an eight percent increase, and in 2016, a 9.27 percent increase. 2015 had the city’s largest increase in the past 10 years at 12.56 percent.
Another highlight to this upcoming year’s levy for the city is playing an active role in the city’s reserve funds.
$15,000 is scheduled to be put in the city’s reserves with approximately $2,000 for each city fund including city hall, parks, streets, fire department, airport, library, and others.
Councilwoman Brenda Weber made the motion to approve the resolution to adopt the proposed 2019 tax levy payable in 2020 with a second motion from councilman John Herman. The resolution for the city’s levy passed unanimously by the council.
In other portions of the city’s regular meeting, council members discussed at length the possibility of bringing in a complete count committee from the National Census. Michael Gold-Biss, of the U.S. Census Bureau, was present at the meeting to discuss the benefits of having a thorough count of the city’s residents. Gold-Biss mentioned to council members the city’s last census only had an 81 percent response rate to the census, and he says he hopes the city can tackle a higher number of responses within the upcoming year of the census, which would only help the city.
“Every person who is not counted in the census costs you, the city and its residents, money,” said Gold-Biss. “You are in a hard-to-count-community because you have a number of factors including snowbirds, children zero to five, and migrant workers. We want the city’s numbers to be truly reflective of who you are in order to not only bring you more money from state and federal assistant programs, but to help citizens see how important their presence is in creating city policies.”
Gold-Biss stated 100 percent accuracy is unrealistic for the city to achieve in its upcoming census, but an aim of 90 percent is a far cry better than the last Census’ 81 percent response rate. The census representative said the city should expect a three or four percent margin of error for any census, but the more input, the better for the city. City Council members then approved unanimously a 2020 census partnership required by the U.S. Constitution to conduct a count of the population. The resolution states that Wells is committed to partnering with the U.S. Census Bureau and the State of Minnesota to support the goals and ideals for the 2020 Census and will disseminate 2020 Census information, encourage all county residents to participate in initiatives that will raise awareness of the 2020 Census and increase participation, provide Census advocates to speak to county and community organizations and to support Census takers as they help the county complete an accurate count.
The council also approved a resolution to create a Complete Count Committee, which states the Census Bureau requires partners at the state and local level to ensure accurate counts. This count committee will bring together a cross section of Wells community members who will utilize their local knowledge and expertise to reach out to all persons of the community.
A call for a public hearing on code violations and nuisance issues for the Wellington Estates property was also made by the city’s attorney David Frundt. He stated the call for the public hearing is just the next step in the process in order to push the Wellington Estates process further along to either have it sold to an interested party, or even potentially demolished by the city. That public hearing is set for Monday, Jan. 13, 2020, the next regular Wells City Council meeting.
The Wells City Council also:
Met Sue Wolf and Tim Kasper, of Honeywell, to discuss the services they have been providing to the city for the past 30 or so years. Questions came into call about the services Honeywell and its associates do for the city with regard to the city’s many heating, ventilation and air conditioning units.
Carried a resolution to approve the implementation of job class and compensation study for the city staff.
Approved a deferral request for the Sixth Street project proposed by Allen Kaiser.
Proposed and approved a resolution to set non-union and part-time wages for 2020 for the city of Wells, as well as an additional resolution to set fees at rates for the city for 2020.
Increased the city’s utility rates for 2020. City storm sewer rates increased from $7.09 to $7.45 for residential areas and from $14.18 to $14.89 for commercial areas. State water surcharges were also increased. Customers using zero to 3,000 gallons of water will see an increase of 12 cents, from $2.40 to $2.52, and customers using over 3,000 gallons of water per 1,000 gallons will see an increase from $4.20 to $4.41.
Finalized and approved the second pay request from the liquor store project for a total of $128,451.33.
Heard from new resident AJ Bate, who asked what the city would be doing to address the smell of sewage from the Brakebush processing plant. Bate said he recently moved to the city for a job opportunity, but based where he is living, the sewage smell is not only constant, but “essentially unlivable.” Administrator Holl stated the city is doing everything it can to address the issue and that Brakebush is continuing to address the issue since issues arose last summer with not only odor problems for the city, but large amounts of grease that made it to the city’s retention ponds.