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Preston City Council Report: 4.8% Preston levy increase

Fri, Sep 8th, 2006
Posted in Government

The preliminary budget was approved at the September 5 meeting of the Preston City Council. Mayor Kurt Reicks was absent. Council members charged City Administrator Joe Hoffman with the job of reducing the initial 13.67% increase detailed in the first draft of the budget. Council member Steve Knoepke remarked that they would need to wear "Kevlar" if the levy increase was 13%.

Joe Hoffman with the help of City Clerk Sheila Marzolf did indeed take a "red pen" to the budget and reduced the levy increase to 4.8%. Some of the difference was made up by anticipated increases in revenue from the lodging tax and state aid for the police. However, most of the difference is from reduction of funding for expenses. By far the most substantial differences were a $17,500 reduction in funding for the equipment reserve for the fire department and a $5,000 reduction in funding for street equipment and a $10,000 reduction for street sealcoating and overlays. Hoffman admitted that the street and overlay reductions were frustrating for him. He commented on the council's recent decision to pay for sealcoating and overlays from city funds rather than assessing property owners. Obviously, if the city does not want to pay for necessary street maintenance by assessing property owners on those particular streets, then all citizens collectively should be expected to pay for those costs through levy increases. Hoffman noted that both the reductions in monies for overlays and for equipment for streets and the fire department are just delaying the inevitable need to raise those funds in the future. The purchase of a needed new pumper truck for the fire department will be delayed for at least a year or two because of the reduction. Council member Heath Mensink added that the fire department could run into insurance problems if the pumper is not replaced. Mensink went on to say that if the city does not assess for overlays and maybe sidewalks, then the public should expect an additional increase in the levy.

The original draft called for a levy increase of $66,971. The approved second draft calls for a levy increase of $23,509 or 4.8%.

The council set the Truth In Taxation Hearing for December 5 and 18. The regular council meeting will be held on December 5 rather than Monday the fourth.

Sidewalk Improvements

A public hearing was held for sidewalk improvements on 105 North Street NE. Hoffman explained that this section was not included in the first hearing on sidewalks because of a misidentification of property lines. Public Works Director Bill Cox noted that originally it was thought that the area belonged to 101 North Street NE.

Douglas Boysen spoke on behalf of his mother who owns the property at 105 North Street NE. He said that the sidewalk should have been fixed three years ago as part of the Spring Avenue Improvement project. He requested that the sidewalk replacement cost of $735.00 be paid for out of funds put aside for that project or from general revenue. If that is not possible, he would request a hardship assessment deferral.

Council member Steve Knoepke agreed that the sidewalk should have been replaced three years ago as the whole section was done except for 35 feet.

Council member Robert Sauer argued that he doesn't agree with the practice of assessing sidewalks in any case. He suggests that sidewalks are used by the public as much as the property owner and that property values aren't significantly increased with a new sidewalk. He said that all of Preston could be made a sidewalk improvement district, which would make it possible for the city to pay all of the costs rather than only 50%. Sauer remarked that everyone in the community would pay for this community service. He admitted that property owners that have recently paid for new sidewalks would have a problem with such a policy. Sidewalks are expected to last about twenty years.

Knoepke stated that he felt the city should fix the sidewalk for Ruth Boysen. Sauer agreed and stated that if the city paid for the 105 North Street NE section, it would have to include the next property owner's, all the way to that corner. The council unanimously approved the use of city funds to pay for the sidewalk improvements on North Street NE for both residences.

Vacating Part of

St. Anthony Street

A second public hearing was held to hear any comments on the vacation of part of St. Anthony Street between Hwy 52 and Valley Street. There was no public comment. Joe Hoffman noted that state statute requires that in order to vacate a street, it must be done in the public interest and by passing a resolution.

Dan Grabau had requested the vacating of the street in August. It was suggested that the public would be served as the city would no longer need to maintain the area

A resolution was unanimously approved to vacate that part of St. Anthony Street reserving the right of the city to maintain and replace utilities on the property.

Cost of Living Increase

At the August 21 council meeting, Dan Boesen representing the Preston Public Employees Association (PPEA) requested a 5% cost of living adjustment (COLA). Dr. Sauer noted that recently the U.S. House Appropriations Committee has recommended a 2.2% 2007 increase for our armed forces. He also stated that the federal government is looking at a 2.7% civil service increase for 2007. Sauer suggested that the 3% that has been budgeted for the PPEA is fair. The council voted unanimously to offer a 3% COLA to the PPEA.

Historic Marker

Council members approved a resolution to act as a sponsor for a historical marker to be placed at the wayside overlook south of the city along Hwy 52. The historical society will pay for the sign with funds donated by the Preston Sesquicentennial Committee.

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