St. Francis to try shrinking proposed levy increase from 7 to 4 percent

The city of St. Francis is hoping to find a way to reduce its currently proposed 7 percent levy increase for 2013.

The St. Francis City Council discussed the issue Nov. 19 after City Administrator Matt Hylen said that surrounding communities’ proposed 2013 levies range from actual reductions to about a 3 percent increase.

Hylen asked whether the council would like to try to cut the increase in an effort to be more competitive with neighboring cities.

The council had approved the preliminary 2013 levy in September and has the option to reduce, but not increase, that number before voting on a levy in December. It will also adopt the final budget at that time.

According to Councilmember Steve Kane, part of the reason the council had approved a preliminary 7 percent levy increase was that the city had gone two years in a row with a zero percent increase, but costs, of course, have continued to rise.

“Now, do we want to rethink this?” Kane asked. “I’m concerned we’re going to chase businesses out of here and that businesses who think they may want to come here will go to a neighboring community [instead].”

New Councilmember Amy Lazere said she thinks the proposed tax increase is too high, “especially if we’re going to raise water rates too.”

Councilmember Jeff Sandoval said that higher water rates are largely due to the city’s stand-alone system; it is not subsidized by the Metropolitan Council like many neighboring cities’ systems are.

He said the council had tried to keep the rates lower, but needed to raise rates to be able to fund keeping the system compliant with mandates.

Kane asked councilmembers what percent tax levy increase they wanted to aim for instead of 7 percent.

Councilmember Chris McClish said he’d like the city to try to get the increase down no lower than 3 or 4 percent, pointing out that the city’s costs continue to go up and there’s no way to know what the future will bring.

Sandoval agreed that 4 percent would be a good goal and Lazere said she would rather see 4 than 7 percent.

City staff will work on budget numbers to try to lower the levy increase down to 4 percent and will bring proposed budget reductions for the council’s consideration at the next city council meeting.