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Cottage Grove levy hike lowered as expenses trimmed

The Cottage Grove City Council cut roughly 3 percent off the 2015 preliminary tax levy last week, reducing it to a 5.68 percent increase.

The new proposal brings down the levy by about $357,000, to $13.4 million.

Much of the decrease, Finance Director Robin Roland said, is attributed cuts in the Public Works Department budget. The council decided to hold off on purchasing two major utility attachments — one for a tractor and another for a utility vehicle. Roland said the equipment costs were between $150,000 and $170,000 apiece.

City Administrator Ryan Schroeder said he spoke with Les Burshten, the city’s Public Works director, and concluded they would budget for the equipment in 2016 and 2017.

The Emerald Ash Borer prevention program also saw a slight decrease. During the city’s first budget workshop earlier this month, Forester Steve Bowe requested $62,000, on top of his already approved $100,000, to treat the city’s ash tree population in the upcoming year. However, the City Council decided to only award Bowe about $31,000 of the additional money.

The building division within the city also requested an $80,000 full-time position to handle facilities maintenance. The position was nixed during budget discussions.

The City Council, however, decided last week to budget for a part-time position for around $15,000.

“This is just a 16- to 20-hour a week position that will manage the fire department’s buildings, the BEC and the public safety and City Hall building,” Mayor Myron Bailey said. “The concern was that public is busy doing this work and gets tied up. This position allows the (full-time public works employees) to do additional work that they need to do.”

Schroeder said the part-time position is not a maintenance person, but more of a groundskeeper of the city buildings.

The preliminary budget is expected to be adopted during Sept. 3 regular City Council meeting, after which the city cannot raise the levy but could lower it.

“The majority of the council is on board with the changes, or at least that is the impression they gave us,” Roland said. “This is obviously the maximum (levy). But we’ll probably see another reduction in September or October once we firm up the numbers.”

If you go

The city of Cottage Grove will hold an open house to inform residents of the proposed 2015-16 budget from 6-8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 20, at City Hall, 12800 Ravine Parkway.

The budget will be presented at 6:15 p.m., followed by breakout sessions by individual departments.