Citizen questions East Bethel tax levy

During the public comment period of the March 19 East Bethel City Council meeting, resident Greg Bayard asked for clarification on the previous year’s significant city- and school-tax increases. He said they were evident from his increased house payment and wanted to know if the increase had been a “one-time deal” or would happen again.

City Administrator Jack Davis said the city’s goal was to keep taxes flat for the next several years. Mayor Bob DeRoche explained that it had been a tax levy increase distributed across all the city’s properties and not a “full 15.2 percent tax increase” to each citizen. The mayor suggested Bayard read the city’s financial status report given March 5, as well as a story about it on the ABC Newspapers website.

Bayard said he also doesn’t want the city cutting things people need to keep tax rates unchanged, but DeRoche assured him no services were being eliminated. Bayard asked how such a big hike had been allowed, since the state places a cap on property-tax increases of 3 percent.

Davis answered, “Indebtedness does not fall under levy limits,” referring to bond payments the city will begin making this year.

Councilmember Heidi Moegerle said the increase vote was the hardest ever, but it avoided a bigger mess and more indebtedness for the future.

In other action, the council:

–Approved the 2015 budget for East Bethel’s part of the Sunrise River Watershed Management Organization, presented by  Vice ChairpersonLeon Mager, who said the $47,000 budget would be used to aid the waters “impaired” by phosphorous – Typo, Martin and Linwood lakes and well as Dalbo Creek – and maintain the good health of Coon Lake. He explained how carp barriers will help reduce phosphorous, since the fish kick it up from the lake bottom, and how various rain gardens help filter pollutants before they reach local water bodies.

–Listened as Fire Chief Mark DuCharme reported 32 fire calls last month, one of which was on ice and required the use of firefighters’ personal vehicles because of insurance limitations on the public ones. He requested and received $29,500 for equipment funded by the sale of an old fire truck last year. The chief advised that burning restrictions would likely be put in place soon, adding: “If we have any residents who want to do open burning, now is the time.”

–Heard the sheriff’s report from February, which highlighted one DWI, three burglaries, 15 thefts, a disorderly conduct road-rage incident and one count of criminal vehicular operation against a driver who caused an injury accident and was found to have a blood-alcohol content of 0.24.

–Approved giving the Lion’s Club a raise from $1,000 per month to $1,200 per month starting in April for running the city’s recycling center, including collection, sorting, maintenance and cleanup. The contract has been in place 10 years with no increase. State law demands that cities offer recycling programs, and grant money funds the full amount for 2014.

–Acknowledged the county’s advice for citizens to report potholes at