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Property tax levy flat in Cottage Grove and Newport, up in St. Paul Park

'Tis the season.

South Washington County cities last week approved budgets for 2013 that will spend a total of roughly $19 million next year on municipal operations and collect nearly that much in property taxes.

Here's a look at what elected officials in Cottage Grove, Newport and St. Paul Park OK'd last week:

Cottage Grove: Levy level, spending not

Taxes are flat but spending is up under the 2013 budget and property tax levy the Cottage Grove City Council approved last week.

The city will dip into its millions of dollars in fund reserves to cover a $450,000, or roughly 3 percent, increase in operational spending in the city's $13.5 million 2013 operating budget without levying for more property tax dollars.

The $12.2 million property tax levy represents a zero increase over 2012 and, city officials said, allows the city to pay for critical operational costs without heaping an extra burden on residential property taxpayers.

"The purpose, obviously of the different (reserve) accounts we have" is to build a fiscal cushion, Mayor Myron Bailey said in an interview. "That is why we have been putting [capital] purchases off for so long but we have the money to do it (in 2013)."

By using fund reserves in 2013, Bailey said the city is saying: "We'll hold the line on the levy but lets use the money we have in the accounts to get caught up a bit."

Last week's vote represents the third consecutive year Cottage Grove has passed a flat property tax levy.

City administration had originally proposed a general fund budget and levy $300,000 more than what the council approved in separate measures last week. Instead, the council opted for a smaller spending increase that is comprised primarily of capital equipment purchases.

Council member Derrick Lehrke, who voted against both the preliminary budget and levy in September, voted against approving the 2013 budget last week. He said he disagreed with leaving the levy flat while increasing city spending.

"I don't think the budget proposed is feasible in perpetuity," he said before the vote.

Newport: City builds budget cushion

Newport City Council members passed a close to $2.5 million budget and $2.4 million total levy last week that officials say sets aside funds for economic development aid and bolster's the city's savings.

The approved budget boosts Newport's fund reserves to almost 49 percent of general fund expenditures thanks to a roughly $600,000 surplus. That figure is up from a fund balance of 25 percent of the city's general fund in 2010 after cuts in local government aid from the state forced Newport to deplete its reserves and is in line with recommendations for cities from the state auditor's office.

"If something comes up you have that cushion in there or you have a healthy fund balance you can draw down on should you need to (for) emergency purposes," Anderson said of the importance of building the city's reserves.

Under the budget and levy the council passed unanimously, the median Newport home -- valued at $145,000, according to city and county figures -- will see an almost $5 decrease in city taxes in 2013, Anderson said. Not all properties will experience a decrease.

"So, your (city) taxes will actually go down in 2013," Anderson said.

According to figures compiled by Washington County, Newport's property tax burden on homeowners is the highest in the county, however.

The budget is part of a 10-year financial management plan, the first long-term fiscal outline the city has developed, officials say.

The 2013 budget maintains city service levels, officials say, and includes much-needed improvements to one of the city's largest and heaviest-used parks, Loveland Park.

St. Paul Park: Taxes tick up for projects

St. Paul Park City Council members approved a $1.8 million property tax levy for 2013 that represents a 3 percent increase over 2012.

The levy is part of a $2.5 million general fund budget that slightly decreases operating expenditures.

The increase in the city's levy is due to debt payments for road projects completed in 2010 and 2011, and a project this year that fixed a leaky roof at St. Paul Park City Hall, City Administrator Kevin Walsh has said.

Both the budget and levy passed unanimously last week with no discussion.

Major expenditures included in St. Paul Park's 2013 budget include a nearly $1 million project that will perform maintenance and repaint a water tower and $30,000 in park improvements. Walsh said the city has not yet finalized which park projects the city will undertake from a list of prospective improvements. That decision will come next year.