If silence means approval, then it appears the community of Granite Falls is content with the financial operations of the riverside city as not a single citizen soul turned out for Monday’s Truth and Taxation meeting, held prior to the start of the council’s regularly scheduled meeting.
Each year the city is required by state law to hold the hearing, providing a venue for local citizenry to be educated and/or sound off on the city’s budgetary process and initiatives prior to adoption of the budget and levy by the council at the following meeting.
This past September, the council set a preliminary levy of .17 percent, and appears set to stand pat on the figure when the final vote is taken December 17. The nominal tax increase comes in the wake of a zero percent levy increase the year prior, which might well explain Monday’s non-existent turnout.
The total tax levy is a composite of the general fund and debt levies. In 2014 the general fund –– which is dedicated to financing annual services such as those performed by the public works and the police and fire departments –– will remain equal to both the 2012 and 2013 levies of $824,453. Meanwhile, the 2014 debt levy –– used for special projects like street and other infrastructure improvements –– saw a marginal increase of .17 percent, or $2,600, to $1,528,553.
Overall the General Fund will increase from $2.21 million in 2013 to approximately $2.39 million for 2014, which is a difference of approximately $189,000. Major increases in expenses include a 17.25 percent group health insurance hike and those attributed to salaries and fringe benefits.
City Manager Bill Lavin said that the city’s ability to hold the line on property tax increases was in large part due to recent increases in Local Government Aid, which for 2014 constituted a $100,000 increase from the year prior.
In other news:
•At recommendation of Finance Director Mike Betker, the Granite Falls City Council recently issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) from financial institutions within city limits to provide sole banking services for the city.
According to Betker, the city had been operating without a contract for many years while utilizing the services of both banks. As a result the finance director said certain fees and charges incurred by the city were often unclear and that potentially more desirable interest rates weren’t being realized.
The city received proposals from both Citizens Alliance and Granite Falls Banks, and after an exhaustive comparison, Betker said it was his recommendation that city approve a 5-year contract with Citizens Alliance, as it would be the most financially beneficial.
Council voted unanimously in favor of the recommendation.
•Council members approved the sale of up to $500,000 in General Obligation bonds by the city’s bond consultant, Ehlers and Associates, for the purchase of a $459,499 Pierce 1250 GPM pumper truck through the Houston-Galveston Area Council purchasing cooperative.
Page 2 of 2 - The fire suppression vehicle will replace the department’s over 35-year-old pumper truck which was unable to pass inspections earlier this year due to expensive equipment faultering.
Including interest payments, the total cost of the bond is expected to be in the vicinity of $560,000.
•At the recommendation of both Lavin and Betker, council members approved the development of a ten-year financial planning tool at an initial cost of $12,000 the first year, and an estimated cost of $3,000 per year thereafter.
According to Lavin, the financial tool has been requested by bond rating agencies and will aid the city in long term budgetary planning.
•Following issues expressed by local constituents at a hearing for street and utility improvements on November 18, the council approved a recommendation by City Engineer Dave Berryman to amend street project assessments for two residential households located along the 10th and 11th Avenue alleyway shared by the hospital.
At the time, property owners expressed that they thought their assessment was too high given that the hospital was the major user of the paved alley. In a sort of compromise, Berryman recommended that the two lots be assessed as corner lots, based on their positions at the end of the alley. However, it was noted by council that this was precedent setting in regard to alley assessments.
The changes adjusted the assessments from $1,437 to $1,078 for the Charlie and Lou Ann Paslawski residence and from $3,354 to $1,574 for the Barb Holien household.
•Council members approved a private hangar lease agreement with local Kenton Johnson in an area currently under development north of the arrival/departure building at the Granite Falls Airport. The agreement is for lease of a 60’ x 60’ hangar at an annual rate of $.12 per square foot.
•The council approved a $1,250 donation to Western Minnesota Prairie Waters Tourism.
•Council members accepted a proposal from Dean and Don Buesing for snow removal services during the next year. Hourly rates for snow blower operations when loading trucks is $100 per hour and $135 while used alone. Truck operation rates are $90 per hour.
•Councilman Steve Schaub was appointed vice president, meaning that in the absence of Mayor Dave Smiglewski, Schaub would take over mayor functions.