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City proposes 8 percent tax levy increase

Alexandria taxpayers should prepare for another property tax increase.

At its meeting Monday night, the Alexandria City Council approved a preliminary 2011 budget that calls for a tax levy of just under $5.3 million - an 8 percent increase from this year's levy.

The amount is preliminary and doesn't mean everyone's property taxes will increase that much.

The actual tax a person pays depends on several other factors, such as market value and how much other taxing authorities (county, school district, etc.) are levying.

In 2010, the city's share of property taxes for a typical residential property represented about 27 percent of the total property tax.

The tax bite could have been deeper.

Alexandria's proposed 8 percent increase - which may be reduced but not increased after public hearings are held this fall - is well under the 19 percent overall levy limit allowed under state law.

The 2011 budget reflects a 7 percent increase in expenditures and a 5.5 percent increase in revenues, according to City Administrator Jim Taddei.

For the first time, the city's total budget topped the $10 million mark. The 2011 amount is $10,160,372.

The city expects to receive just over $5 million in revenue, mostly through state aid, charges for services, payments in lieu of taxes from Alexandria Light and Power, franchise fees, delinquent taxes and licenses and permits. The city plans to levy $5,293,106 to make up the rest.

On the expense side, Taddei listed the following significant changes:

--The budget reflects a 2 percent increase in employee wages. Last year, wages were frozen. Also, planned salary adjustments for department heads, which were delayed this year, are included in the 2011 budget.

--A $211,156 increase in the city's capital improvement fund. It will increase from $38,844 to $250,000. Projects include the city's share for restrooms at Fillmore Park ($85,000), a digital radio system for the street department ($31,200), two outdoor alert sirens for civil defense ($26,000), computers and upgrades ($20,000), fire station roof repair ($15,000), a plow at the airport ($7,500) and other improvements. Capital improvement projects are subject to council approval and funding from federal and state sources.

--An $80,000 increase in payments to townships for tax reimbursements for land that's annexed to the city.

--A 25 percent increase in various equipment funds - street, park, fire department, police and the Runestone Community Center - to reflect higher replacement costs. The funds were increased from a total of $280,000 to $350,000.

--A $66,900 increase in the police department budget for a dispatcher/receptionist position, a community service officer and a utility/backup generator at the new police station.

--$65,000 more for the city's street paving program to address deteriorating road conditions.

--Reinstating $15,000 in the employee benefit fund, which was eliminated last year to make up for lost state aid funds. Funds for planning commission development, which were froze at $20,000 because of the state aid loss, were also reinstated to $32,000.

--$15,000 for building repairs at city hall (as recommended by a building diagnostic study).

--$7,500 for a planning intern.

--$5,000 for utilities at the new park department building.

On the revenue side, Taddei listed the following changes:

--Intergovernmental revenue was increased $446,000 because of reinstated local government aid from the state that is certified but not necessarily guaranteed for 2011.

--Franchise and delinquent tax revenues were reduced $125,000 primarily because of a drop in natural gas sales.

The city's budget committee, which includes Mayor Dan Ness, council member Sara Carlson and city staff, interviewed about 20 individuals and organizations during the budgeting process, Taddei said.

A public hearing was held to get input from taxpayers. Only one resident, Virgil Batesole, spoke. He said he was disappointed that the city is planning to increase its tax levy when local businesses and homeowners are facing hard times.

Council member Owen Miller said that the police department is still two officers short of the number it should have. He said the street department is also far short of what it needs to maintain roads.

Council member Cindy Bigger said that the council thoroughly reviewed the budget numbers in a work session and the decision to increase the levy wasn't made lightly. She noted that the city is growing and faces more needs.

Bigger added that the amount of local government aid the state has certified to give the city next year may not materialize. If that happens, the city will have to revisit the budget again, she said.

The next public hearing on the budget is set for Monday, November 29 at 7 p.m. The council expects to adopt a final budget at its December 13 meeting.

Besides the budget, other noteworthy council items included decertifying 11 parcels within a tax increment financing district; storm shelter concerns at Hustad Mobile Home Park; the 2011 Ice Fishing Challenge, which is being changed to take place on Lake Agnes; the upcoming Walk for Life; contracts and a change-order for the new police station; an annexation request on Latoka Drive; the formation of an Arts Advisory Committee; a new sign truck for the street department; sanitary sewer extension requests; a city employee's leave of absence request; and a joint meeting between Alexandria Light and Power and the city.

For more city council news, read Friday's Echo Press.

Al Edenloff
Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  
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