Heitke critical of Council's levy action
WILLMAR -- Willmar Mayor Les Heitke has criticized the City Council for setting the 2010 preliminary levy without first seeing his proposed 2010 budget.
"This is the first time that I can remember in many years that the council is setting a preliminary levy even before hearing what the budget proposal is,'' Heitke told the council Tuesday night. "You're already setting the parameters and the budget hasn't even been proposed to the city.''
Finance Committee Chairman Denis Anderson said the council is facing the Sept. 15 deadline when the city's preliminary levy must be certified to the Kandiyohi County auditor.
"Unfortunately, we didn't get to hear the budget,'' he said, when the committee met on Aug. 31, but he added the committee will receive Heitke's 2010 budget at its 5 p.m. meeting Sept. 14 in the council chambers at the Municipal Utilities Building.
Heitke asked why the timeline "got jammed up?''
City Clerk-Treasurer Kevin Halliday said the Sept. 15 date provides time for the county auditor to send out Truth-in-Taxation notices to property owners about their proposed property taxes. But Halliday said he was not certain how the timeline got backed up.
"We lost two weeks somewhere in the process,'' said Halliday.
City Administrator Michael Schmit was absent.
The council voted 8-0 to set the preliminary levy at $3,668,705, with the idea that $100,000 -- raised by a special levy allowed for covering Local Government Aid cuts -- would be earmarked for storm water improvements.
Mayor Les Heitke is proposing a 2010 levy of $3,568,705, up the maximum of $43,380 or 1.23 percent from 2009 as allowed by state levy limits.
Anderson said the proposed $3.6 million levy is the preliminary amount. He said the amount cannot be increased after receiving preliminary approval, but it can be decreased. The final levy amount will be approved by the council in December.
"As we work through our discussions between now and December, if we ultimately decide that this is not something we want to do or if we find another way to fund it, we can take that amount out of there,'' he said.
Council member Doug Reese asked if the word "idea'' regarding the storm water earmark meant funding was or was not part of the resolution.
"That's what the committee felt was important,'' said Anderson. Part of the money was to finish the city's 1998 draft watershed management report by Barr Engineering and the remainder to go towards flooding solutions as the council sees fit.
"If the City Council didn't want to do that in the preliminary levy, that can be changed,'' said Anderson.
Heitke said his proposed levy will be $100,000 less "because I think that's enough. If the council wishes to levy more, then you're the ones who are raising the property taxes of our citizens,'' he said. "I think it's unfortunate that the levy is being adopted tonight and we haven't even heard the budget.''
Anderson is agreed. The committee was asked to set the preliminary levy "and none of us had a clue. We didn't know what to do,'' he said.
Heitke said the increase "pretty well eliminates any other considerations that you might want to think about this fall. You have three months to study the budget and there may be other projects or expenses, items that you think are also important. But this kind of closes the door on that. You have limited yourself here.''
Anderson said the committee has concerns and reservations, but discussed the possibility of tapping some funds if something came up during that interim period.
Council member Ron Christianson said he suspects the $100,000 will be gone and the council will find the money somewhere else.
"But we are giving ourselves at least a $100,000 cushion,'' he said. "We can't raise that number; we can lower it. We're in a time where we're looking for spending cuts and not looking for special projects.''