by Karin Craig
For the Union
East Bethel Mayor Richard Lawrence is not happy with the preliminary 2013 tax levy increase approved by the council Sept. 5.
At the council’s Sept. 19 meeting, Lawrence said he wants city staff to put more work into the budget to bring the currently proposed less than 1 percent levy increase down to zero percent.
He said there are still items in the budget that could be cut because they are not currently being used, and that it would take a very minimal amount of further cutting to avoid a levy increase.
Councilmember Heidi Moegerle said she thought city staff had already done an excellent job of pointing out budget items that could eliminated. Councilmember Steve Voss agreed.
“Staff has been working on this for months and we went through it in excruciating detail,” said Voss.
When Lawrence repeated that he thought there were still “things in the budget that could be cut,” Voss said he thought his comment was a slight to city staff.
Lawrence further surprised other councilmembers by insisting more than once that he did not vote to approve the city’s preliminary levy.
According to City Administrator Jack Davis, the city council Sept. 5 approved the resolution setting the preliminary levy and budget for 2013 on a 3-1 vote with Moegerle opposed.
Davis suggested the mayor may have been thinking of a different council action on Sept. 5 — a motion to levy for a bond payment deficit — that failed in a 2-2 tie when both Lawrence and Voss voted against it.
But Lawrence insisted he had not voted to approve the preliminary tax levy increase.
“I did not vote for that… I never said pass or fail,” said Lawrence.
“Then why didn’t you bring it up when we approved the [Sept. 5 meeting] minutes?” Voss asked Lawrence.
According to Moegerle, the council had only passed a preliminary budget and levy so far, and that there would be more time to discuss it before passing a final version. The council may choose a final levy in December that is the same or lower than the preliminary one, but not higher.
The council passed a motion to add the 2013 budget and levy to its next regular city council meeting agenda.
In a later telephone interview, Davis said it would be up to Lawrence whether he wanted to pursue changing the Sept. 5 meeting minutes to reflect that he did not cast a vote on the preliminary budget and levy.
If he does take that action, the vote could change to a 2-2 tie and the motion would have failed. If the preliminary budget and levy decision is determined to have in fact failed, Anoka County will simply certify the same city tax levy amount for 2013 as for 2012, which is $4,660,226.