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Willmar mayor presents 'aggressive' budget with focus on capital improvements

Shelby Lindrud / Tribune The proposed 2018 Willmar City Budget, presented Tuesday by Mayor Marv Calvin, is several hundred pages detailing the city's inner workings.

WILLMAR — The 2018 mayor's budget for the city of Willmar includes some big items, including a City Hall/Community Center project, a new refrigeration system at the Civic Center and over $1.5 million for the city's pavement management and storm sewers.

"Before you is a very aggressive budget," Calvin said during Tuesday's special work session of the Willmar City Council.

The tax levy in Calvin's plan will increase 3 percent, or $144,880, over last year, to $4,974,245. The council will vote on the preliminary levy increase at next week's meeting. From there the levy may still be decreased, but not increased, up until the final levy is approved in December.

Steve Okins, city finance director, said while the levy might go up 3 percent, any increase could be less than that for actual taxpayers thanks to new commercial and industrial properties being added to the tax rolls. There is also the possibility the city will find the additional money needed for the levy increase in other places and not have to raise taxes as high.

The balanced city budget includes the estimated revenue and expenses for a wide range of city departments and facilities, from police and public works to the wastewater treatment plant and municipal airport.

"The total budget is $45 million. That is a big impact for our organization and the community," City Administrator Ike Holland said.

Wrapped up in the city's budget are general operating, capital improvements, special revenue, debt service and enterprise funds. This means a significant amount of the money in the $45 million budget is earmarked for certain expenses and cannot be used for general city business.

"We do have cash on hand, we do have investments," Holland said.

It is the proposed capital improvement budget where the biggest moves are being made.

"I want to focus on our capital spending. We haven't been doing a good job keeping up," Calvin said.

Over the past several months, the City Council has met in three work sessions devoted to specifically to capital improvement, to lay out the council's priorities. The 2018 budget reflects those priorities, with money possibly being spent on City Hall, the Civic Center, Community Center, stormwater projects and road projects.

"The things we've talked about, are passionate about, are in the budget," Councilor Shawn Mueske said.

There is $2.45 million budgeted for a new refrigeration system for ice at the Civic Center, another $8.5 million for a major City Hall and Community Center building project and $1.5 million for pavement management and stormwater. The stormwater spending includes two large projects: $800,000 for a western project and $100,000 for a Menards area project to help with flooding on the west and south sides of town.

In the budget, those projects are being funded through bonding, but city staff are looking at other options as well.

"We are exploring those," Okins said.

The capital budget also includes an amphitheater; the Robbins Island projects to be funded by a state Legacy grant which requires a $250,000 local match; portable bleachers for the park department; and a search robot for the police. All totaled the capital improvement budget is estimated at $16,357,797.

There is also $855,790 in the 2018 budget for vehicle replacements, including five police vehicles, a backhoe for public works and a semi tractor for the wastewater treatment plant.

The next step for the budget is for the council to go through it and decide what stays and what goes.

"After tonight's meeting, it will be the council's budget," Calvin said during Tuesday.

Holland said the draft budget shows that the city believes in a bright future for Willmar and is willing to spend the money to make sure that future comes to fruition.

"This will send an indication to the community that you are proud of this community," Holland said.

Councilor Andrew Plowman said that while he does not like to raise taxes, he sees the preliminary 2018 budget as a proactive approach, instead of the city having to react after issues arise.

"What we are doing here is very responsible, giving our citizens the best return on investment possible," Plowman said.

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