Granite Falls looking at .17 pct. increase in property taxes

The Granite Falls City Council unanimously approved a 2.39 million budget, and levy increase of 0.17 percent on Monday. The minimal tax increase comes in the wake of a zero percent levy increase the year prior.
“The city staff did a great job of putting this  budget together. The additional Local Government Aid (LGA) will help immensely with catching up on purchases and needs that have been set aside due to LGA cuts in the recent past,” said Mayor Dave Smiglewski. “The city council really wanted to hold the line on taxes this year and we are able to that and still move ahead with several things.”
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 0.17 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 rate hike and some projected increases  in 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 $190,127 increase from the year prior.
For several years, cuts in LGA that occurred in conjunction with a steady rise in expenses, forced the city to make budgets and increase property taxes in order to maintain basic services. The trend shifted in 2013 as the city received $86,046 in additional LGA from the state and now $190,127 for 2014.
The latter figure came about as a result of a sizable overhaul of the program this past legislative session. According to council members, legislators have told cities that they should consider the level increase a one time deal that may be best suited to fund one-time projects.
Also noteworthy is an increase to the city’s General Fund Designated Reserve from approximately $100,000 to $190,000, which City Manager Bill Lavin said was largely the result of the additional LGA and tighter bookkeeping practices. In adjoint, the city is projected to save  an estimated $80,000 in sales tax expense due to a cheney in state tax laws that will exempt purchases by cities.
The city will also continue its long-standing practice of transfering $225,000 from the light fund into the general fund and $100,000 from the liquor fund into the general fund.

In other news:
•Council members called for bids to replace the sanitary sewer lift station located near Rice Park at the south end Minnesota Avenue. Engineering estimates project a total cost of $1.89 million for the lift station, of which $1.512 million is funded through a federal grant. The remaining $378,000 non-federal share of the project will be financed with the use of the city's flood mitigation funds as directed by the DNR. Including design and construction expenses, a total of $600,000 toward the project will derive from flood mitigation funds.
•Council approved the Advocate Tribune as the official newspaper for printing and publishing city business for 2014.
•A request by Kilowatt Community Center Director Nick Richter to call for bids to purchase replacement exercise equipment consisting of three treadmills, two ellipticals and two recumbent bikes at a price of approximately $17,500 was unanimously approved by council members.
•The city approved a resolution certifying approximately $11,000 in delinquent accounts stemming from unpaid city utility and maintenance services by city property owners. The passage of the resolution will allow for the city finance department to certify the amounts over to the county auditor for collection with property taxes payable in 2014.
•Council approved a 5-year Capital Improvements Plan for all city funds.
•Council approved an agreement with Countryside Public Health in reaction to the organization's Tobacco Compliance Program. Countryside charges each establishment $125 to provide the checks. At present, six county establishments are covered under the program. In 2013, only one establishment was found to be out of compliance and as a result both the store and individual who sold the cigarettes during the failed check were each fined $50.

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