City Council to hold hearing on tax levy, budget

Published 5:25 pm Saturday, December 12, 2009

After months of planning, forming a citizen task force and conducting numerous public and council workshops, the Albert Lea City Council will hold a public hearing Monday on its proposed 2010 tax levy and annual budget.

As the city faces potential unallotments of more than $700,000 in local government aid in 2010 — in addition to an about $338,000 unallotment in 2009 and a $400,000 one at the end of 2008 — city staff and council members have worked to cut out about $1.1 million from the city’s budget for next year.

The proposed 2010 general fund budget is about $13.66 million, instead of $14.75 million in 2009. All city departments have reduced their budgets.

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Albert Lea City Manager Victoria Simonsen said during the Monday meeting Finance Director Rhonda Moen will present a Power Point presentation of the proposed budget and then there will be a public hearing on it before the council potentially votes on it later in the meeting. If the council decides it wants to table the vote until its next meeting on Dec. 28, that is a possibility.

In September, the council voted 5-2 to adopt a preliminary general fund tax levy of $5,095,375, which is $135,000 higher than the city’s levy in 2009. That would equal out to an almost 3 percent property tax increase for homeowners.

Moen’s presentation Monday, however, will be based on a $70,000 tax levy increase — which is $65,000 less than what was proposed in September — though there is still the possibility of adopting a general fund tax levy with a zero percent increase. The levy just cannot go higher than what was passed in September.

If the council chooses to approve the $70,000 general fund tax levy increase, they will be able to decide where that money is allocated, Moen said. The salary of one police officer, including benefits, is right around $70,000.

If the $70,000 levy increase is approved, that will equal out to a $21 increase in city property taxes on a home valued at $100,000. This would mean 28 percent of a homeowner’s tax dollars would go toward city services, while the remainder would go toward Freeborn County, the Albert Lea Area Schools district and the Shell Rock River Watershed District.

Councilors thanked city staff for their work in preparing the budget.

Some of the proposed changes to the budget include closing the public library on Fridays and Saturdays, reducing hours in certain positions and reducing available hours at some city facilities, to name a few.

There has also been a hiring stall in place and some people have chosen to take early retirement incentives. The Albert Lea Police Department still faces potential layoffs.

In a Tribune column Friday, Albert Lea Mayor Mike Murtaugh encouraged people to give their input about the budget by contacting him or their council member, or by attending the Monday public hearing.

The city tax levy and budget are just two of the large items scheduled for the Monday council agenda.

During the Monday meeting the council will also:

Have a public hearing about whether to adjust the city sewer and water rates.

Simonsen said City Engineer Steven Jahnke will present an overview of the proposed sewer and water rates, and there will be a public hearing to receive input.

The proposal comes after a sanitary sewer rate study was conducted by firm TKDA.

The council will vote on the rates at its Dec. 28 meeting.

Vote whether to approve an agreement with the Freeborn County Humane Society for a joint project in regards to the operations and expansion of the animal shelter.

The Humane Society proposes to finance the construction of a new kennel facility on city property in exchange for a 30-year lease.

Under the proposal the city will pay $400 a month, and the Humane Society will operate the facility.

An anonymous donor has come forward to donate to the cause, and the Humane Society has fundraised to match that donation.

Vote whether to approve a resolution that would request Gov. Tim Pawlenty and the Minnesota Legislature to refrain from further unallotment of LGA payments to Minnesota cities. If passed, the resolution will ask the governor and Legislature to call an immediate special session or address the budget deficit upon the opening of the session on Feb. 4, 2010.

Have the first reading of an amendment to the tattoo ordinance.

The proposed ordinance came before the council earlier this year but has since been revised.

Have the first reading of an interim sign ordinance that as proposed would temporarily prohibit illuminated flashing light signs within the B-3 district and signs greater than 400 square feet throughout the community.

A second reading and public hearing on the ordinance would be Dec. 28.