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City levies up, down and flat

Weeks of public discussion about proposed city spending for 2014 came to an end last week when Cottage Grove, St. Paul Park and Newport approved preliminary budgets and property tax levies for the coming year.

Cottage Grove plans a 3.7 percent property tax levy increase next year while St. Paul Park, with the help of a large Local Government Aid payment, is planning to lower its property tax levy by 1.5 percent. Newport is leaving its levy unchanged.

During its final discussion last week, the Newport City Council was informed that the Minnesota Department of Revenue rescinded its offer which originally allowed the city to be exempt from a levy limit. The city was working on putting into place performance measures that would have allowed for the exemption. However, City Administrator Deb Hill told the council the city would be subjected to the limit.

In an effort to adjust the proposed $2.4 million general fund budget and be in line with the levy limit, several cuts were made:

-- Administration cuts, including education, contracted services and capital outlay reduced by $4,000

-- Professional services and engineering cut from $32,000 to $28,000

-- Streets, parks fuel reduced by $3,000

-- Parks capital outlay reduced $3,000

-- Building fund transfer cut from $40,000 to $32,000

Hill added that the reductions in several funds does not include debt services or bonding for future street projects.

All three cities have tentatively set dates for the first week in December to approve final budget figures. While the preliminary budgets have been submitted, cities may decrease the levies but cannot increase them.

St. Paul Park Mayor Keith Franke said he was happy to see taxes decreasing for residents while Cottage Grove Mayor Myron Bailey said he believes the city's budget is balanced and the financial "road ahead looks very positive for us."

Here are highlights of the cities' preliminary budgets for 2014:


-- Levy increase of 0 percent

-- Total general fund budget of $2.4 million, excluding debt

--Equipment certificate and bonded indebtedness combined is $218,084

-- 2014 repayment of general obligation bond of $73,711

-- $687,000 general government expense, a roughly 1 percent increase over the current year's spending

-- Bulk of budget comprised of $1.04 million public safety department

Cottage Grove

-- Levy increase of 3.7 percent

-- Total general fund budget of $14.3 million

-- Excluding debt, levy limit is under state-imposed max of 3 percent increase

-- First time in five years the taxable property tax base is proposed to increase in 2014, estimated 5.4 percent

-- City to rent cellphone towers in 2014, projects $350,000 revenue to be allotted to a special parks fund to pay for future park improvements

St. Paul Park

-- Levy decrease of 1.5 percent

-- Total general fund budget of $3.1 million

-- $452,209 in Local Government Aid, which allows for a reduction in the property tax levy

-- $1,350 decrease in general government expenses

-- $13,300 increase in city administration expenses

-- Capital improvements of $75,000

-- Implement no-parking zones and striping on Broadway Avenue for $10,000

-- Increase in street sealcoat and crack seal program to $80,000

Editor's Note: The print version of this story inaccurately stated the general fund budget for St. Paul Park as $1.515 million. The correct general fund budget is $3.1 million.