I didn’t exactly stop working on City issues over the summer, but my interest in blogging about them evaporated entirely. Why sit at a computer when I could tend my green roof (planted some little bluestem grass up there today), run with my dog, pick tomatoes, go to the State Fair or do just about anything else outside?
But now it’s September, school has started, the leaves are turning, the preliminary tax levies has been set so I’m back…
By law, the Council must approve the preliminary tax levy by September 15 – that means the Council must act at its regular meeting Monday night. Given the governor’s unallotment tactics and the recession’s impact, the City needs to make up the shortfall by cutting spending (and services) and/or raising taxes and fees.
So far, we’ve been doing pretty traditional budgeting starting with last year’s numbers and reducing spending across the board by freezing wage and step increases (See the News), cutting staff by attrition and layoffs, asking each department to cut 10% and now figuring how much revenue we can raise via the general fund levy, HRA and EDA levies. Our direction to staff was to attempt to keep the tax dollar amount paid by homeowners the same as last year. This recommendation isn’t perfect – as the News reported, the impact is greater for commercial property owners (who are also burdened by a state property tax which residential property owners do not pay).
We’ve also raised some fees and added a few new ones (such as a $10 fee for proctoring exams at the Library and $200 for a 2 AM closing liquor license). And, we are considering created a street light utility which has attracted a bit of attention in the local media here and here. We already have water, stormwater, garbage and wastewater utilities – by creating a utility, we add an itemized fee on monthly utility bills for each of these services which goes to a separate fund for maintaining and improving that service’s infrastructure. The advantage is to remove street light funding from the General Fund and be able to calibrate utility fees based on usage and infrastructure needs more accurately rather than simply sweeping this cost into the General Fund and into the tax levy.
An interesting discussion bubbled up at last Monday’s meeting in the context of the HRA levy. Some Councilors were interested in raising the HRA levy beyond the requested amount and up to the allowed levy limit on the theory that, in the current economy, the City should help meet basic needs like housing. The alternate argument was that we should stick to our plan of holding the levy to last year’s dollar amount and respect the City wide budget cutting that has been necessary, rather than trying to address this social need in particular. More on all these another time along with some thoughts about budgeting for outcomes.