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Fireworks, 2021 budget on Monday’s council agenda

The Austin City Council will formally vote on whether or not to cancel the 2020 Fourth of July fireworks program during its next regular meeting.

The council previously discussed alternative means to hold the fireworks after cancelling Freedom Fest events at the Bandshell on April 20. During the May 4 work session, the council expressed concerns about the feasibility of holding the fireworks while maintaining social distancing.

In a 6-1 vote, the council opted to place the cancellation vote on the next meeting’s agenda. Councilman Jason Baskin cast the dissenting vote.

City Clerk Ann Kasel said Flashing Thunder Fireworks will not charge a 15 percent cancellation fee.

The council will also vote on whether or not to open the Austin Municipal Pool for the 2020 season during the meeting. During the May 4 work session, the council chose to wait on a recommendation from the Austin Park Board about opening the pool or keeping it closed for the season. In a letter to the mayor and council, Park and Recreation Department Director Kevin Nelson stated that the Board reviewed several factors and has recommended not opening the pool for the 2020 season.

City Administrator Craig Clark and Administrative Services Director Tom Dankert will hold a 2021 budget discussion during the work session following the meeting.

Local Government Aid (LGA) and the tax levy fund the bulk of the city’s budget, accounting for $8,500,584 and $7,150,000 of the 2020 budget respectively. Due to the impact of COVID-19, it is unknown how much LGA the city will receive for 2021.

City leaders are looking to implement the findings of the recent Compensation and Classification Study, which the council approved before the COVID-19 pandemic. To implement the full cost of the study, without assuming any reduction in LGA, would require a tax levy increase of 16 percent. Clark and Dankert will discuss some scenarios in which the council could lower the levy increase, such as city department and/or housing initiative funding reductions, though such scenarios provide their own challenges.

The council does not have to make any definite budget decisions yet; however, a preliminary tax levy will need to be approved by Sept. 30.

Kasel will discuss safety measures to be implemented for election days in 2020.

A proposed vote-by-mail law failed to gain support in the State Legislature; however, a modified election law encourages absentee voting and appropriates funding for plexiglass barriers and sanitizers.

The law also removes schools and nursing homes from the list of potential polling places. As a result, Austin has lost four polling locations held at schools. Kasel is looking for alternative locations, such as Packer Arena and the Holiday Inn conference center.

Kasel also stated that only 25 percent of her regular election judges are willing to work because of COVID-19 concerns.

The council’s next regular meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, May 18, in the Council Chambers of City Hall. The work session will be held immediately following the regular meeting.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Austin City Hall is currently closed to the general public. The meeting will be broadcasted beginning 5:30 p.m. on Charter Channel 180. Anyone who wishes to address the council must first call City Clerk Ann Kasel at 507-437-9943.

For a complete agenda, visit www.ci.austin.mn.us/city-council.