Proposed 2008 city levy makes up for Local Government Aid loss of more than $239,000

WILLMAR -- Mayor Les Heitke's proposed 2008 property tax levy of $3.133 million makes up for this year's expected loss of $239,490 in Local Government Aid from the state.

WILLMAR -- Mayor Les Heitke's proposed 2008 property tax levy of $3.133 million makes up for this year's expected loss of $239,490 in Local Government Aid from the state.

But the levy does not include money for major improvements such as railroad crossing quiet zones, storm water retention ponds or opening up the downtown bypass.

"This is the amount that's needed to maintain the level of government services that we provide,'' City Administrator Michael Schmit told the Willmar City Council's Finance Committee Monday evening.

He said Heitke had requested money be found for a quiet zone improvement at the Seventh Street Southwest railroad crossing. Instead, Schmit proposed the city wait until Burlington Northern Santa Fe prepares a cost estimate for establishing a quiet zone there.

The preliminary quiet zone study did not include a cost estimate for Seventh Street, but recommended the city ask the railroad for an estimate due to the complexity of the crossing.


"We've asked the railroad to prepare that number,'' Schmit said. "When we get that number, the mayor will suggest we revisit the likelihood of getting state or federal assistance or use some of our capital reserve funds to perhaps address that.''

Regarding the downtown bypass, Schmit said the city will try to incorporate the project in the 2008 street improvement program to open the east and west ends of the U.S. Highway 12 bypass on downtown Litchfield Avenue.

Committee Chairman Denis Anderson and committee member Steve Gardner spoke in favored funding for quiet zones.

"No wants to raise taxes, but the time has come we may need to do so,'' said Anderson.

Committee member Jim Dokken said he favors doing something for flood relief, referring to the high-water problem faced by some southwest area homeowners during a heavy rain storm last week.

"We need to take some pressure off those property owners,'' he said.

Schmit said he couldn't guess what lawmakers would do about Local Government Aid if Gov. Tim Pawlenty calls a special legislative session.

Schmit said Heitke will propose enacting a franchise fee on CenterPoint Energy. A franchise fee is an annual assessment paid by a utility for the privilege of doing business in a city. The money is paid as a percentage of a utility's gross receipts.


The fee would raise an estimated $250,000 for the general fund. When Schmit was asked what will happen if the council does not approve the fee, he replied, "It's back to the drawing board.''

Schmit said the City Council is required to certify the levy to the county auditor by Sept. 15. The certified amount cannot be increased, but it can be decreased, he said. The 2008 levy is up from the 2007 levy of $2,806.995.

During discussion, Schmit sensed the committee was not ready to recommend the council certify the levy because committee members expressed support for funding some projects. The committee accepted his suggestion that the levy be discussed with the council at the Sept. 4 meeting.

Meanwhile, Schmit said cost estimates will be prepared for the downtown bypass, quiet zones and storm water retention.

Schmit said the 2008 levy includes $200,000 for street improvements. This amount would be added to $200,000 in unspent funds from 2007 that had been earmarked for the Fifth Street Southeast project just east of the Kandi Mall. The funds were not spent because the street was not built.

During discussion, Anderson said he wanted to see the budget before the levy is certified. Anderson said he wanted to see where the money would be spent.

In other business, the committee approved the request for a levy of $455,000 in 2008, unchanged from 2007, for the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission.

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