WILLMAR — The Willmar City Council unanimously approved the city's 2020 tax levy Monday night, passing Mayor Marv Calvin's original request of $5,776,821.
The approved levy is less than what the council had approved in September, when it set the preliminary levy at $5.9 million. State law allows a city to reduce its levy after the preliminary approval, but not raise it.
The final approved levy is higher than the 2019 levy, with an increase of $526,821. A property owner who owns a home worth $140,000 will see the city portion of their taxes go up about $11.58 next year. A home worth $344,000 will see a $33.76 increase in taxes.
The council on Monday also approved the 2020 city budget of $65,410,419. Included in the budget are $9.8 million in local option sales tax projects, $8.5 million for the city hall project, as well as two new positions to the city — an assistant fire chief and an accounting clerk.
When Calvin first presented the 2020 budget and levy in September, it included $245,000 in revenue from a gas franchise fee. However, that fee had not been approved by the council. Due to those concerns, the council decided to raise the levy to $5.9 million to make up a portion of that "lost" revenue.
The gas franchise fee is an amount a governmental body assesses to a utility provider for the utility's use of public space or city right of way. The utility provider then usually passes that fee on to its customers as a franchise fee line-item on the bill. While the council still may discuss and implement the gas franchise fee in the future, it will not happen for the 2020 budget.
Since the council's preliminary approval of the tax levy, the Finance Committee and the entire council dived into the budget, making adjustments and discussing purchase and funding requests. The committee recommended reducing the levy amount to the original $5.7 million request.
Beyond that $147,836 reduction from the preliminary levy amount, the Finance Committee also removed purchase requests for a police robot and a gear dryer for the Fire Department. Finance Director Steve Okins said both department heads agreed those purchases could be removed from the budget.
The committee also removed from the budget an assistant administrator position and funding for the Barn Theatre. These adjustments made it possible to balance the budget.
The mayor advocated for returning the funding to the Barn Theatre, but the council decided to stick with the recommendation from the Finance Committee to remove the $15,000 request. Funding requests from the Kandiyohi County Historical Society for $15,000 and Kandiyohi County Food Shelf for $5,000 were also denied.
Other civic organizations will receive city funding: $5,000 to Vision 2040, $60,000 to Willmar Fests and $17,607 to West Central Industries for Meals on Wheels.
Another recommendation made by the Finance Committee, and approved by the council, was to take $315,000 from $800,000 in undesignated funds to pay for field lights at the Swansson Field Recreation Complex. The undesignated funds came from the former early retirement program that sunset last year. There is still $485,000 in undesignated funds the City Council could use to fund other projects if it so chooses.
Prior to the votes, the council conducted the annual Truth-in-Taxation hearing, which gives residents a chance to comment on their taxes and the budget. There were a couple of residents at the hearing and both commented about how high their overall property taxes were.
They also raised concerns about the appraisal of their properties, although property valuations are not part of the Truth-in-Taxation hearing.
A property's taxes are a combination of city, county and school levies, along with the levies of any other special jurisdictions a property might be under. The amount of taxes each property pays depends on the levies that are set and the assessed value of the property. In Willmar, properties are assessed by Kandiyohi County.
A property owner may appeal the valuation of their property to the local or county Board of Appeal and Equalization in the spring. The date, times and locations of the board meetings are provided when a property owner receives their Notice of Valuation and Classification. County assessor's offices have more information about the appeals process.