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Early 2015 budget figures show 3 percent levy increase in St. Paul Park

The city of St. Paul Park has begun setting up its budget for fiscal year 2015, which includes a proposed 3.36 percent tax levy increase.

The preliminary levy hike includes funds to pay for increased expenses in the city administration and law enforcement departments, as well as a slight increases for parks and recreation and street repair.

City Finance Director Kim Sommerland laid out the preliminary facts and figures to the City Council last week, saying the levy increase is just a “starting point.” The council will determine the 2015 budget during workshops throughout the coming weeks.

Early numbers show revenues exceeding expenses next year, providing the city a surplus of just over $113,000.

Total revenue is projected to reach just over $2.9 million, while expenses are currently sitting near $2.8 million.

The revenues, up about 5 percent over the current year, are attributed to increases in permit and license fees, charges for service and water towers being used as cell towers.

Sommerland said there are a number of ways the city could use the surplus, including for future street projects or using it to lower the levy, she said.

“The revenues have been very stable,” Sommerland added. “We are looking at three-year averages."

Proposed for 2015 is a $1.5 million operating levy, which is made up of property taxes and is the same operating budget as that was adopted for 2014.

While revenues are projected above costs next year, the preliminary budget does, however, show a roughly 4 percent increase in city expenses.

The city administration department will likely see a $20,000 increase to cover salary and benefit costs, workers compensation and an increase in PERA (Public Employee's Retirement Association) rates.

The city’s Police Department budget is expected to see an increase of roughly $65,450, and the Public Works Department will get a slight increase following the request for a part-time seasonal worker.

Sommerland said Public Works Director Rob Weldon asked for more help in the summer, adding that the increase does not add another full-time position.

City Council member Jeff Swenson said it’s a “minor amount for public works.”

“The expenses are incremental and easy to forecast,” he added.

There was an increase in the debt levy, just over $65,000, which is due to bonds that were issued for parks improvements, Sommerland said.

The 3.36 tax levy increase does not include fiscal disparities, Sommerland said.

“We don’t know what that number is yet. Probably by the end of the month we’ll have that number or a better idea of what that will be," Sommerland said. “I just plugged in what we had last year.”

However, the estimated net levy is right around 4.8 percent.

The city is expected to ratify the preliminary budget at its Sept. 15 regular meeting.

“Our hope is that we don’t have to increase the levy anymore than what it says here,” St. Paul Park Mayor Keith Franke said.

Upcoming projects

The council also took a peek at proposed projects and improvements for the next five years. Sommerland said they were “very, very preliminary projects” acting as a guide for the future.

Proposed for 2015 is $25,000 to upgrade the city’s electronic records management system to improve GIS (geographic information system) integration, long-term storage and update the Laserfiche.

A 20-year-old vactor truck is slated for replacement next year with a price tag of around $250,000 and an additional $120,000 to computerize city water controls and meters. The department also is looking to replace an outdated plow truck ($175,000) and an 1 ton truck ($65,000).

Other parks projects proposed for 2015 include resurfacing Heritage Park parking lot, remodeling the warming house at Whitbred Park, repainting and restoring the Lincoln Avenue water tower, and upgrading HVAC at City Hall.

In 2016, proposed projects include replacing a squad car and fire engine, upgrading the building at Heritage Park, and purchasing new Public Works vehicles.

The City Council members could also see an increase in their pay in the next two years. Looking to the 2016 budget, Sommerland said a 3 to 4 percent increase in council salaries can be discussed.

“It’s just something to think about,” she said.

It would not change the 2015 budget, she said, adding that the last time City Council members took a pay raise was nine years ago.

Sommerland said more discussion is needed, adding the funding sources for the proposed projects are not yet allocated.