Ramsey looks at 2018 levy increases

Staff Writer
I cover the cities of Andover, Blaine and Ramsey. I have worked at ABC Newspapers since August 2007.

The Ramsey City Council is still deciding on what its budget and levy should be for 2018.

At an Aug. 22 workshop meeting, the council saw options for levy increases ranging from 6.4 percent higher than 2017 to 9.76 percent higher. The 2017 total levy was approximately $10.48 million.

The council will be discussing the budget again on Sept. 12 and will have to approve a preliminary 2018 budget and levy before the end of September. The information is forwarded to Anoka County’s property records and taxation department, which then mails out 2018 property tax estimates to home and business owners prior to final levy approvals in December.

Staffing decisions weigh heavily on how much Ramsey’s levy will increase in 2018. According to Finance Director Diana Lund, the 9.76 percent increase option would add all the new staffing requests city department heads have made. The 6.4 percent increase would still come even with no increases in staff.

New staff options include full-time positions of senior planner, park maintenance worker, recreation assistant and fire inspector/life safety educator, A part-time IT data processing position could be increased to full-time. There is also a proposal to add two new part-time positions for events planning and engineering administration.

“It’s a balancing act of how to move the city forward and protect our investments but also protect our taxpayers so we don’t end up too far ahead of ourselves and have unintended consequences and buyer’s remorse,” Mayor Sarah Strommen said.

The owner of a home valued at approximately $250,000 in 2017 could see an annual city property tax increase ranging from $80 to $113.

Strommen thinks the city should land somewhere in the middle of the lowest cost and highest cost option out of the four choices that Finance Director Diana Lund presented at the Aug. 22 meeting.

The mayor said developers have shown increasing interest in Ramsey and a senior planner is needed to help with the workload. Keeping up with parks maintenance is also important to her and something a lot of residents care about so she wants another full-time parks maintenance employee. She wants the part-time engineering administrative assistant to take care of a lot of the clerical work that City Engineer Bruce Westby has been doing.

Council Member John LeTourneau said the community growth adds a lot of workload stresses on staff. Council Member Jill Johns said she would like to get a little more information on what services would be lost if the council did not add these new positions.

Lund provided a five-year staffing request handout for the years 2018-2022 to give the council a forecast of upcoming requests and the justifications for each position.

For example, having another full-time senior planner would give the city more personnel resources to address initiatives the council has emphasized such as improving the image of major corridors like Highway 10 and having quicker response times to requests from prospective developers for more information about the city and specific properties.

For all current staff, the 2018 cost of living salary increase is proposed to be 2.5 percent on Jan. 1 and another half-percent raise on July 1.

Lund pointed out that the debt service levy is already increasing annually because the council had chosen to issue debt through bond market transactions and collecting property assessments as the means of paying for road maintenance.

There’s a cumulative effect since the city is planning to do a bond sale annually to finance the major road reconstruction and overlay projects of that year. The first road improvement debt issuance happened in 2015. All bond issuances in the next five years have debt payoff timelines of at least 10 years and some larger bond issuances will have 20-year payback periods, according to a debt service levy spreadsheet Lund distributed at the workshop meeting.

Furthermore, in 2020 the city of Ramsey in 2020 is looking at adding to its debt service levy to pay for a public works campus building project.

Council Member Chris Riley wishes there would be an option that would have a levy increase lower than 6 percent.

“I have a problem that we are accepting a large increase and asking ourselves how much farther are we willing to go,” he said.

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