Ramsey 2014 levy could go up

Ramsey’s tax levy could be increasing in 2014 because of a higher debt service payment for the municipal center project, but the general fund budget is decreasing and the Ramsey City Council can continue to look at ways to decrease the levy by the time it votes on final numbers in December.

According to Finance Director Diana Lund, the 2014 preliminary levy of $8,723,341 approved by the Ramsey City Council Sept. 10 includes $7,345,779 for the general fund, $1,018,063 for the municipal center debt service, $147,630 for the debt service levy for Fire Station No. 1, $75,135 for the debt service levy for equipment purchases and $136,734 for the Economic Development Authority levy.

The 2014 preliminary levy is $725,128 or 9.07 percent higher than 2013, Lund said. The municipal center debt service is more than double last year’s amount.

Budget decreasing

The general fund budget could decrease by 3.88 percent compared with the 2013 figure, according to Lund. The 2013 general fund budget was set at $10,293,837. The 2014 general fund budget is preliminary set at $9,894,184, which would be almost $400,000 less than this year.

A couple of notable reasons for this is a sharp decrease in the roads maintenance budget and a decrease under “miscellaneous professional services.”

Although the roads budget is preliminarily set to drop from $1,327,500 to $500,000, the lower amount is similar to budgets in 2011 and 2012 and about $170,000 higher than 2010.

The preliminary budget proposes an increase in staffing. A part-time IT staff person and a part-time office assistant will start right away. A new police officer will come on board June 1, 2014 and seven interns for the administration, community development, engineering, building and police departments will start when needed, according to Lund.

“We went through a consolidation period when we weren’t as robust,” Councilmember John LeTourneau said. “We’re now at a point where activity has been restored and in order to do the right work for residents we need the support.”

Lund said the IT and office assistant positions were originally budgeted for full-time with health benefits and the police officer was going to start Jan. 1, but the city needed to reduce its budget by about $156,000 before the preliminary budget and levy vote to meet the state’s levy limits requirements. A public works maintenance position will also be paid through the enterprise funds instead of the general fund.

“We aren’t adding a ton of positions here,” Councilmember Randy Backous said.

Increased health insurance costs and cost of living increases impacts the budget, he said.

Mayor Sarah Strommen said these positions are in the preliminary budget based on the council’s long-term goals discussions, but the final decision on whether to hire these people is far from being made.

“We haven’t approved recruiting or hiring of any of those positions,” Strommen said. “Those will come back to the council one-by-one for that discussion.”

Councilmember Jason Tossey was the only one on the council to vote against the preliminary 2014 budget because of his opposition to a possible roads franchise fee, which would be separate from the general fund budget and will be discussed at an Oct. 8 public hearing.

HRA levy

The city additionally has a 2014 Housing and Redevelopment Authority levy tentatively set at $207,802, which would be $20,534 higher than this year.

A few members of the council said they would like to see both the EDA and HRA levies reduced or eliminated altogether. Ramsey property taxpayers were levied $328,567 by the Anoka County HRA in 2013, according to Anoka County HRA Executive Director Karen Skepper. The anticipated 2014 levy is $334,260.

During the resident forum at the Aug. 27 council meeting, Wayne Buchholz questioned why the city of Ramsey and Anoka County imposed a housing and redevelopment authority levy on Ramsey residents.

“That’s double taxation in my mind,” Buchholz said.

Backous opposes the proposed increases in the city’s HRA and EDA levies and eventually would like the HRA levy to go away completely. Over the past three to four years the HRA levy has been used for economic development initiatives and he feels it should only be for housing redevelopment. Furthermore, the HRA levy unlike the EDA levy is excluded from levy limits.

Backous and Councilmember Chris Riley opposed the city’s HRA levy. Tossey was absent until the council meeting later that evening.

The council is first waiting to see if the county HRA honors the city’s request to allocate $215,561 of its funds for economic development activities, including paying for the economic development manager, for which the city is still recruiting, and paying city staff members for the time they spend on economic development issues, according to Lund.

Skepper said as of April 13, Ramsey had $989,009 in its county HRA account, but there are property purchases pending.

Strommen and Councilmember John LeTourneau do not think the city’s HRA levy should be eliminated entirely in 2014, but are open to a lower levy when the final vote comes in December.

Strommen said the city must focus on getting an economic development staff person.

LeTourneau said he is pleased to see this position remain in the budget at this point.

In the meantime, the HRA Sept. 10 approved seeking request for proposal for a brokerage firm to handle property marketing for various commercial and residential properties throughout the city for six months.

“I believe one of our areas of emphasis has to be increasing the tax base so we have the revenue to fund these items,” Strommen said.

Eric Hagen is at
[email protected]