New hires push city budget up

Published 10:34 am Wednesday, December 9, 2015

New hires are one of the biggest changes pushing the city of Austin’s budget to $29.9 million in 2016.

The Austin City Council held its truth in taxation meeting Tuesday at City Hall to discuss its budget and a $4.9 million tax levy, which is an increase of $575,000.



Director of Administrative Services Tom Dankert noted much of the increase will go toward hiring a new police officer, a new detective, a Jay C. Hormel Nature Center employee and a new parks and recreation department worker with the levy increase to bring the total to about 143 city employees. City staff would hire the nature center and parks employees midway through 2016 to save money.

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With the average cost of an employee around $70,000 to $75,000, Dankert says that accounts for a good portion of the increase.

“That pretty much makes up for about $575,000, which is your increased tax levy for 2016,” Dankert said.

Two other employees were requested and not included in the budget, including a fire department worker and a building maintenance person.

Along with staff, another driving factor for the budget is Local Government Aid. The city is set to receive about $7.9 in Local Government Aid — a more than $25,000 increase over 2015. LGA makes up a little more than half of the $15.5 million general operating fund.

“We are heavily dependent on the state of Minnesota to operate the general fund, which pays primarily police officers, firefighters, helps plow your streets, administration and most of the park operations for the city of Austin,” Dankert said. “So again any massive changes from the state of Minnesota standpoint to how they fund they LGA has significant impacts on how we operate the city.”

In the past, some budgetary increases have been absorbed by LGA increases, but that’s not been the case in recent years as LGA funds have been flat or seen modest changes.

“Now LGA has been flat, some years been reduced, some years been minimal increases, which is why we need to depend on the tax levy more to bring the services that the council is hearing from the constituents that they want provided,” Dankert said.

Though $575,000 more in the levy makes for a 13.3 percent increase, Dankert cautioned the increase looks a lot larger than it really is.

The city will receive about $140,000 in new taxes from the Holiday Inn area, which has a tax increment finance district set to expire at the end of this year. That will cover about 3 percent of the increased levy.

In addition, about 2 to 3 percent of taxes usually comes from new commercial and residential properties, which means a 6 to 7 percent increase is what will actually show up on tax bills next year.

Looking over tax statements, Dankert told the council that average homes could see an increase of close to $30 on their tax statements, but that often depends on value changes and the overall home value.

“You’re probably in the $30 range for the average homeowner, and for that you’re primarily getting two new officers, another parks and recreation person and a nature center help,” Dankert said.

The city is slated to approve the final budget and levy at its Dec. 21 meeting.

The Mower County board is expected to approve its 2015 levy at $19.25 million — or an increase at about 3.4 percent or $635,700 — at 10 a.m. during its Dec. 15 meeting. Its truth in taxation meeting was last week.

Austin Public Schools’ truth in taxation meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Dec. 14 to discuss its roughly $6.7 million levy — 1.57 percent increase — after the regularly scheduled school board meeting at the City Council Chambers.

On a tax bill for city of Austin residents, Dankert said about 35 percent of taxes go to the city, about 37 percent go to the county, about 25 percent go to Austin Public Schools, and about 3 percent goes to the Housing and Redevelopment Authority, the Cedar River Watershed District.