Public can speak out on city’s proposed budget, tax levy

Published 6:59 am Friday, November 27, 2009

Austin citizens will get their chance to sound off on the city’s proposed budget and tax levy early next week.

The annual truth-in-taxation meeting is scheduled for Tuesday evening, and those in attendance can discuss Austin’s proposed $27 million budget and 3.84 percent tax levy hike, which would translate to less than $10 per homeowner.

City council voted to cap the increase at 4.59 percent in early September, but that came down to 3.84 percent — which doesn’t include an additional 1.42 percent for Lansing Township — earlier this month. The final levy and budget are set for approval Dec. 7.

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Council members and the mayor have discussed the possibility of bringing down the number further, but Austin Administrative Services Director Tom Dankert has warned that having a zero or near-zero percent increase would be fiscally irresponsible.

Dankert said during an Aug. 17 council meeting that having no increase now would likely lead to higher costs later — and possibly a much larger tax spike, something citizens dislike, he said.

“Eventually, someone’s going to have to pay the bill,” Dankert said at that meeting.

The proposed levy is $3.9 million, compared to $3.705 million last year. Though it decreased in 2002 and 2003, the levy has grown every year since 2004.

As far as the budget, the $27 million figure actually covers a number of smaller budgets, the largest of which is the city’s roughly $14 million general fund.

The state’s plans, however, could throw a wrench into what Austin does.

Local Government Aid from the state is the city’s largest source of revenue every year, averaging roughly $7 million. But Gov. Tim Pawlenty already axed $380,012 this year and another $876,000 in 2010 through his power of unallotment. More 2009 cuts could come at the end of the year.

The LGA funding equates to roughly half of the city’s general fund, and Dankert and city administrator Jim Hurm noted in a recent memo that further changes to LGA will directly affect the city’s 2010 budget.

Truth-in-taxation hearing

WHEN: Tuesday, Dec. 1, 6:01 p.m. (state law requires the meeting be held after 6 p.m.)

WHERE: City Hall, lower level

WHY: So citizens, city staff and elected officials can discuss Austin’s proposed 2010 budget and tax levy