Spring Lake Park levy hearing brings few questions

The Spring Lake Park City Council’s truth in taxation hearing brought no questions from the council and few from residents.

The council will vote to approve the budget and tax levy at its next meeting Dec. 16.

The proposed 2014 tax levy is $2,751,330, up 6.27 percent from this year.

The tax levy for the general fund will only increase .84 percent; the remaining 5.43 percent increase comes from debt service on a five-year equipment certificate.

The timing of the certificate’s issuance in February did not allow its inclusion in this year’s levy, leading to an artificial decrease of 20 percent.

“We still have significant property tax relief,” City Administrator Dan Buchholtz said. The levy remains lower than it was in 2012.

Under the proposed levy, the city property tax for a $126,000 home in Spring Lake Park will be $580 annually, or $48.33 each month.

Buchholtz came up with a list of items one could buy for $48.33: one month of cable service, a nice dinner for two, a trip to the movies for a family of four, a monthly gym membership or a basic cell phone bill.

With a property tax payment of $48.33 one gets all of the following: 24-hour police and fire service, recycling, maintained city streets, snow plowing, tree trimming, animal control, code enforcement, zoning services, recreation programs, park maintenance, street lights, elections and more, Buchholtz said.

“That really puts things in perspective,” he said.

Nearly three-fourths of the city’s budget comes from the tax levy. Half of taxpayers’ dollars fund public safety and code enforcement, Buchholtz said in his presentation.

“We do spend a significant amount of money on police and fire protection for our residents,” he said.

The police department’s budget is up less than 2 percent. The fire protection contract has increased more, up from $177,845 in 2013 to $193,949 in 2014, mainly due to increased equipment costs, Buchholtz said in an interview after the hearing.

Another “cost driver” for 2014 is an increase in health insurance premiums, which are up 8 percent for the city.

Buchholtz is hopeful that they will decrease as the Affordable Care Act finds its footing, though “there’s a number of people who would say, ‘Don’t hold your breath,’” he said.

Local government aid

Legislative reform of the local government aid formula will see Spring Lake Park receive aid for the first time in 10 years. Nearly $290,000 in revenue is expected.

“When the council got [LGA] back, we were very cautious,” Buchholtz said, explaining the decision to invest the dollars in one-time projects, rather than annual line items.

The money will go toward buying down the debt service levy, purchasing capital equipment, funding storm water mandates, funding general fund expenditures and reducing the liquor store transfer this year with construction on Highway 65.

Citizens questioned the last item, asking if the city is budgeting for a loss and whether staffing hours will be cut at the liquor store.

“We’re confident that we’ll be able to meet that transfer within the first six months of 2014,” Buchholtz said. “We’re going to do everything we can to encourage people to fight the construction and maintain their habits and come to the store.”

The liquor store manager handles staffing and that the council will see detailed information about the liquor store’s budget in January, he said.

“There aren’t going to be any layoffs,” Buchholtz said in an interview after the hearing. “Mainly, it would just be adjusting hours.”

Olivia Koester is at olivia.koester@ecm-inc.com

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