Council discusses 2022 budget at special work session

Published 6:06 pm Tuesday, August 24, 2021

The Austin City Council held a special work session Monday afternoon to discuss the proposed budget for fiscal year 2022. Administrative Services Director Tom Dankert provided a summary of the proposed budget during the meeting.

As it stands, the City of Austin is set to receive $8,755,992 in certified Local Government Aid (LGA) from the state, up from $8,661,967 for 2021.

The budget also has a proposed 2022 tax levy of $7,950,000, an increase of $514,000, or 6.91%, from 2021. To put that in perspective, a home valued at $130,000 in Austin paid $595.56 in city property taxes in 2021. A 6.91% increase is the equivalent of a $42 per year increase in city property taxes for that same house. Comparing four other cities of comparable size — Albert Lea, Faribault, Owatonna and Winona — using the League of Minnesota Cities’ annual property tax calculator, Austin ranks third in property taxes, lower than Owatonna and Albert Lea and higher than Faribault and Winona.

On a regular basis, wages and benefits for city staff account for 60-70% of the annual budget. Public safety, streets and highways, and parks, recreation and forestry account for the largest expenses. With the implementation of the compensation and classification study, the council opted to eliminate the equivalent of 4.5 vacant full time equivalent city positions in the 2021 budget. They also decided to contract out for striping and tree trimming service, use street department staff to do Sign Shop duties, and have existing park maintenance staff work at the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center, though no one person was dedicated to the site. The proposed levy increase accounts for the implementation of the compensation and classification study for 2022 and provides for the following:

• Brings back tree trimming in house;

• Brings back Sign Shop in house;

• Fills current library assistant vacancy;

• Adds a dedicated Nature Center maintenance person;

• Brings back assistant city clerk/administrative assistant; and

• Spends $5 million on capital purchases.

Two vacant positions — engineering technician and technology librarian — are not budgeted and may remain vacant.

Under the proposed budget, capital outlay expenses are as follows:

• General Fund – $701,400

• Capital Improvements Revolving Fund – $2,266,000 (including $1,416,000 from tax levy)

• Sewer Use Fund – $99,500 (paid with user fees)

• Storm Water Utility District Fund – $425,000 (paid with user fees)

• Central Garage – Streets – $450,000

• Central Garage – Parks – $325,000

• M.I.S. Administration – $95,000

• Fire Fleet Replacement Fund – $470,000

Mayor Steve King said he was pleased with the budget proposal, but still encouraged the council to consider further possible cuts to decrease the tax levy. The council will further discuss the budget during the Sept. 7 work session, particularly a disagreement over whether tree trimming should continue to be contracted or brought back in house.

The council will vote on setting the tax levy during the Sept. 20 meeting, after which it will be submitted to Mower County and the State of Minnesota. Under Minnesota statute, the tax levy may be decreased, but not increased, after Sept. 30.