Willmar City Council approves 2015 levy, budget

l members first debated street improvement funding before unanimously approving the property tax levy and budget for 2015. Voting to approve the levy and budget were Ron Christianson, Steve Ahmann, Audrey Nelsen, Tim Johnson, Jim Dokken, Rick Fag...

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l members first debated street improvement funding before unanimously approving the property tax levy and budget for 2015.
Voting to approve the levy and budget were Ron Christianson, Steve Ahmann, Audrey Nelsen, Tim Johnson, Jim Dokken, Rick Fagerlie, Bruce DeBlieck and Denis Anderson.
At issue was council members’ recollection of whether the $250,000 increase in next year’s $4,451,028 levy was slated to repay money the council borrowed from one of two city funds to help pay for City Auditorium repairs or whether the increase was to be spent on street improvements.
In September, the council borrowed $250,000 from the permanent improvement revolving loan fund and $250,000 from the $1 million insurance deductible reserve to help pay for
$1.09 million in auditorium repairs.
The budget ultimately approved after the discussion does put the $250,000 back into the revolving loan fund. The other fund will still need to be repaid at a later date.
Discussion arose Monday night during the Truth in Taxation hearing. The state requires the hearing prior to setting the annual levy and budget. City Administrator Charlene Stevens said the council has the authority to reduce the proposed levy or adjust the recommended budget.

Christianson said he thought council members agreed at the Nov. 18 Finance Committee-council workshop to designate the levy increase for street improvements.
Stevens said she and the finance director understood from the workshop that the increase was to repay the revolving loan fund.
“If that’s incorrect, you can change that action this evening. The budget is not adopted until you do so by resolution,’’ Stevens said.
Anderson, Finance Committee chairman, said there was discussion early on about street proposals. Anderson said he proposed using $250,000 to repay the revolving loan fund in 2015 and repay the other fund the following year.
“I don’t really recall that this would be used for streets. Also, we discussed using the $147,000 in the levy as principal and interest payments on a million or a million-and-a-half dollar bond. But we opted not to do that. That’s the discussion on streets I remember,’’ Anderson said.
Christianson asked if state law requires repayment of the funds.
Stevens said city policy states the revolving fund has to be repaid within five years.
“We had originally proposed to pay it back $50,000 a year out of capital improvement. We can certainly go back to that,’’ she said.
Christianson said he suggested at one meeting that the city use unspent funds, mostly from the previous year’s capital improvement program, to pay back the fund. He did not think the council had to raise property taxes to fix the Auditorium.
Nelsen asked Stevens to repeat the city’s policy of programming unspent funds from previous years for upcoming budgets.
Stevens said unspent funds from 2013 have been programmed into the 2015 budget. The amount of the unspent funds is determined after the audit is completed and all bills are paid.
Johnson also said he understood that the money was to be used for streets.
Nelsen recalled a discussion at the last Finance Committee to repay the revolving loan fund. She also recalled a specific discussion on street spending and whether to leverage funding for additional work, “and we chose not to.’’
“I’m confused with why all of a sudden we think we need to do the streets because we had the street discussion and set that,’’ Nelsen said. “It’s very clear the $250,000 be used to pay back that loan.’’
DeBlieck said minutes of the Nov. 18 workshop state that the $250,000 levy increase was to repay the loan. DeBlieck said streets are important but so was repaying the loan. He said streets are important but they’re not that important.
“One of the calculations was it was $63 million we’d have to put into streets to bring everything up to par,’’ he said. “You’re kind of like a dog chasing its tail. You can always put money into streets. It isn’t a problem to spend money on them. But I don’t think we need to have streets that are all pothole-free.’’
Also, DeBlieck criticized the council for canceling street projects when people object during the assessment hearing.
“You cancel it out and don’t go ahead and fix the streets the way it is anyway,’’ he said.
Johnson said the council has neglected maintenance on the Auditorium, Civic Center and Community Activity Center.
“We’ve neglected the upkeep of those buildings, a lot of infrastructure. The cost of deferred maintenance will catch up to us. I’m as responsible as the rest of you,’’ he said.
Ahmann said the city has neglected its streets and he spoke to the benefit of doing more sealcoating.
The 2015 budget totals $33,392,396. The budget sets the general operating fund at $15,655,066; capital improvements at $1,949,306; special revenue and internal at $1,788,913; debt service at $2,706,227; and water treatment enterprise at $11,291,884.


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