Council approves levy increase for 2023

Published 6:07 am Tuesday, December 13, 2022

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The Albert Lea City Council on Monday approved a 5.75% increase in the property tax levy for 2023, which was down almost a percent from the preliminary levy passed this fall.

City Finance Director Kristi Brutlag said for a $100,000 home that did not change in value from 2022 to 2023, the city taxes would decrease by about $82.

For a $100,000 home that increased in value by 22% — the same as the increase in the city’s tax capacity — city taxes would go up almost $35 a year.

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The council approved the total levy at about $7.34 million, including $5.5 million in the general fund levy and about $1.8 million in the debt service levy. The increase equates to about $399,000.

The council approved the general fund budget at about $18.11 million, an increase in about $900,000 over 2022.

Brutlag said most of the increase was tied to personnel, including a 2.75% wage adjustment, a $168,000 increase in overall health insurance costs and an $82,000 increase in workers’ compensation costs.

Other increases came from tree service that will be conducted as part of the city’s emerald ash borer management plan, increases in motor fuels costs and an increase in the joint law enforcement center expenses.

Brutlag said 30% of the city’s general fund revenue comes from the tax levy and 32% comes from local government aid.

Of the expenses the city has, 43% covers public safety, which includes fire, police and building inspections, while the next highest is for culture and recreation at 21% and public works at 17%.

Sixth Ward Councilor Al “Minnow” Brooks thanked Brutlag and other city staff for their work on the budget. He said although he has a tendency to be pretty conservative, as he got into the budget more and talked with the councilors who were on the budget committee, he recognized there wasn’t a lot of wiggle room to bring the budget down.

He noted, however, the increases in food prices and other costs of living taking place.

Third Ward Councilor Jason Howland, who serves on the city budget committee, said the committee goes through each department’s budget line by line. He said the city has been fortunate to have zero increases in the operating levy for almost 10 years and said that the increase approved was less than the average levy increases for cities across the state of about 9%.

He also lobbied for an increase in local government aid from the state, which he said has been fairly stagnant in recent years.

First Ward Councilor Rich Murray, who also is on the budget committee, thanked city staff for their work on the budget and said the major drivers of the increase were all things that the city does not have much control over.

He said the city needs to get more people to move to town to share property tax load and said he thinks the city is on the right track.

Mayor Vern Rasmussen Jr. said the budget is a major undertaking each year, and he encouraged the community to continue to share how their actions impact them.

The statements were in response to comments by Albert Lea rental housing investor Robert Hoffman, who owns 125 rental units in the community. Hoffman said the increases equated to about $27 a month for each of their renters, though they do not plan on passing on that cost to the renters. That is on top of gas costs that have increased by over 100% and other costs, he said.

The council also approved a $150,000 levy for the Albert Lea Housing and Redevelopment Authority, which is down from the $245,000 passed earlier this fall.

Brutlag said $100,000 of the levy will be used for the stabilization of Shady Oaks, with $50,000 going to the public housing operating fund.

The increase from the 2022 levy is about $41,000.

The council approved a 7% increase in the sewer rates and 5% increase in the water rates, as well as the city’s capital improvement plan for 2023 through 2027 and budgets for the water, sewer, solid waste, Senior Center and airport.

In total, the average monthly water and sewer bill will increase by $4.15, from $69.32 to $73.47.

In other action, the council:

• Approved a Main Corridor Renewal Grant for $25,000 for 411 1st LLC for partial roof replacement on the former Streater building. The total improvement totaled $79,500.

• Approved a Broadway Ridge Renewal Grant for 244 S. Broadway, the future home of Hope Church, for $50,000 for costs associated with a new front entry. The total improvement exceeded $100,000.

• Designated remaining American Rescue Plan Act funds given to the city for reimbursement of public safety funds. The council in turn voted to transfer funds from the general fund for housing, to fund the 300 Broadway Ridge Project, the Snyder Field project and the city’s portion of the inclusive playground.

• Approved a new wellness program for city employees.

The program allows employees to cash out a portion of their accrued sick time to be reimbursed for the cost of wellness-related expenses.

Howland voted against the program and said though he supported the idea of the program, he did not agree with some of the eligible expenses, including some tied to hunting purposes.

• Heard an update from Ellen Kehr, former organization lead for the Blue Zones Project in Albert Lea, regarding accomplishments with the project and how the leadership will transfer to Cathy Malakowsky, director of community engagement and enrichment for the city.

Look to the Tribune for more from the Monday meeting.