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Proposed 2010 city levy funds Storm Water Task Force study

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news Willmar, 56201
West Central Tribune
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Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WILLMAR -- A member of the Storm Water Task Force is pleased the proposed 2010 city budget includes money to study recommendations for solving storm water flooding problems.

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"I think it's great,'' said task force member Joe Ridler.

He was referring to a vote Monday by the City Council's Finance Committee to recommend the council increase the proposed 2010 property tax levy by $100,000 to update the 1998 draft watershed management report by Barr Engineering of Minneapolis.

"The city's information is nine or 10 years old. Now we can get it updated and see where all the improvements have been done in the community and see where we can improve and move forward,'' Ridler said.

Without the Barr update, said Ridler, the task force was dead in the water.

"Right now we've only been able to discuss rain gardens that we've put in the community. Really we're waiting to see where the Barr report comes out, get all the updated information and move forward,'' he said.

The council established the 12-member task force in August 2008 to find possible solutions to flooding problems during heavy rain storms. Task force members have been encouraging the council to fund the Barr update.

Barr originally proposed a three-part study to update the city's hydrologic and hydraulic model to reflect current conditions, complete the draft watershed management plan and review current ordinances.

The council in September approved an agreement with Barr to perform the first part of the study and had originally budgeted $50,000 for the analysis in 2009, but the amount was cut to $30,000 as part of overall city budget reductions.

Now, the study will be done all at once if the council accepts the committee's funding recommendation. Officials hope the study can be completed next summer.

Besides recommending money for the Barr update, the committee voted to recommend the council increase the proposed budget by $32,000 to contract for additional street cleaning services for one year.

The committee recommended the funding at the request of council members who want the city to contract for the service, estimated by city staff at $32,000, rather than spend an estimated $170,000 to buy a new vacuum-type sweeping machine to remove more material from streets and improve storm water quality.

As a result of committee action, the council will be asked to increase Mayor Les Heitke's proposed 2010 levy from $3,568,705 to $3,668,705 to account for the Barr update and to increase the mayor's proposed budget from $22,086,858 to $22,218,858 to reflect increased spending for the Barr report and street sweeping contract.

At the start of the 3½-hour meeting this week, Heitke reminded the committee of the state's budgetary problems and Gov. Tim Pawlenty's unallotment process to balance the state's budget that included reducing Local Government Aid to cities such as Willmar, which received LGA cuts of $316,537 in 2008 and $269,043 in 2009. More cuts may follow.

Heitke said his proposed budget reduced the city's contribution to the Meals on Wheels program by 25 percent from $20,000 in 2009 to $15,000 in 2010. Heitke asked the committee to reinstate the $5,000 cut if the committee included $100,000 for the Barr report, but the committee took no action on the mayor's request.

Several ideas have been floated recently to raise additional revenue, but no decisions were made. The ideas include imposing a fee on property owners who receive service from the Willmar Fire Department. The fee idea will be discussed again at the committee's next meeting on Monday.

Other ideas include imposing a natural gas franchise fee and a boulevard fee to pay for maintaining trees and sidewalks.

After the meeting, Heitke praised committee Chairman Denis Anderson for leading a very good and thorough discussion of possible revenue sources. Overall, he said, the council stayed pretty close to his proposed budget, with the exception of the additional Barr funding.

Heitke said it's too early to gauge taxpayers' reaction to the proposed levy hike. He said increases in the tax base from construction and remodeling over the years have tended to offset levy increases.

"Whether or not that will totally cover the increase this year, it's too early to tell because everything has to go through the county and we really won't get our final tax levy assessment from the county until probably in December,'' he said.

"I don't think it will be a huge problem, but I think people are looking at every single expenditure these days, whether it's city, county, school district, and looking at their own personal finances. It's a real tough balancing act right now,'' he said.

's 2010 levy of $170,000city levy and budget will be considered by the council during the Truth-in-Taxation hearing Dec. 7.

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David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150
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