Tax bill veto could cost Austin in LGA funds; Council discusses 2017 budget

Published 10:23 am Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Austin City Council discussed a framework for its 2017 budget on Monday.

The city could miss out on nearly an extra $168,000 in local government aid (LGA) due to Gov. Mark Dayton vetoing the tax bill, unless a special session is called and only if that funding would be included there, according to Director of Administrative Services Tom Dankert.

The amount of LGA will be determined by Aug. 1, he added.



Staffing needs

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Like in recent years, a driving factor for budget needs will likely be staffing needs.

After the number of city employees decreased for many years, the city has provided increases in staffing in recent years, Dankert said.

Two positions first on the list could be a full-time administrative assistant for the fire department and a building maintenance person who will look specifically at maintenance issues.

“Last year, we did not approve increasing the administrative assistant for the fire department from 20 hours a week to 40,” Dankert said. “We also had a request in there for overall city buildings, a maintenance person, someone to oversee all the maintenance buildings.”

Mayor Tom Stiehm said Fire Chief Jim McCoy has been asking for that position and has been pretty frugal about what he has.

Dankert said Austin Utilities employees have helped out in the past by just charging the city a portion of their time when they were actually looking at something until utilities moves out.

About 60 percent of the general fund is spent on wages and benefits. Each new employee adds $65,000 to $75,000, Dankert said.

He said one percent of the budget is equal to about $49,000 and there has to be seven percent to pay existing employees, which adds up to about $338,000.

Early work

The city is required to have a proposed tax levy and budget approved by Sept. 30. Dankert said city leaders will need to work with department heads to determine needs for the 2017 budget.

He said putting together the budget first includes assuming the council wants to continue programs from the previous year or if they decide to eliminate a program. They will also discuss the addition of programs.

“Those are usually funded by tax levy or operational dollars, so if you want that to come up, we need to know that sooner rather later also, so we can factor that in the budget and the tax levy,” Dankert said.

The council discussed five things in relation to the budget: the 2017 tax levy, staffing issues, other agencies, capital requests and the budget review process.

As a starting point, the 2017 tax levy is currently proposed at $4.9 million — the 2016 amount — but the council will be able to increase or decrease the net levy to any amount it desires. It cannot increase it after it’s certified in the fall — it can only be lowered.

Austin ranks 224th out of 229 Minnesota cities with population over 2,500 in net tax levy per capita, according to the city’s auditors and state auditor’s website.

Agency requests

The council agreed to have other agencies send in letters requesting what they want funding for, though The Historic Paramount Theatre has requested annual appropriations verbally and Dankert asked the council if they would still be willing to listen to this request and perhaps other verbal requests.

Dankert said the council goals included some funding to be set aside for three years for an economic development objective of $22,222 and the council would factor that in.

He also asked if there were Vision 2020 projects the city would like to get involved with.

Dankert said they plan to form the budget the same way that has been done the last couple of years. The department heads will receive information on how to complete the application for the budget.

City Administrator Craig Clark and Dankert will meet and bring the council a balanced budget.