Letter to the Editor: Taxpayers have a stake in determining the tax levy

Published 4:44 pm Friday, August 25, 2023

Last week Mayor King and the City Administration presented to the Austin City Council a proposed budget for 2024.  The budget calls for an increase in property taxes of slightly more than 11% for property owners in Austin.  I think this is an unreasonably large increase in your property taxes.  The process of creating and approving a budget starts in the summer when the administration puts together their plan for 2024.  It is then presented to the City Council.  Now it is the taxpayers turn to tell the Austin City Council what you can afford.

The size of the spending increase is much larger than 11%.  In 2024 there is a large increase in tax dollars transferred from State of Minnesota to the City of Austin.  Without this increase in Local Government Aid from the State, the tax increase would be closer to 18% .  In my opinion, this growth in spending is more than taxpayers can afford.

The property tax levy has been growing at an alarming rate.  In 2018 it was $5.9 Million.  The proposed 2024 budget has it at $9.2 million.  That is a 56% increase in 6 years!  I completely understand that taxes go up. Things are more expensive than they were 6 years ago.  I want to make sure that our public safety folks have the resources they need. I want to make sure that our City has dependable infrastructure.  I want to make sure that we have plenty of recreation options.  I just want to slow down the growth rate in taxation and spending.

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The root cause of the problem is the growth in labor costs.  In the City of Austin over the last 6 years, average employee costs (salaries and benefits combined) have grown at an average rate of 9% per year.  In 2024, the average City employee will cost taxpayers more than $130,000 in wages and benefits.  Again, please do not misunderstand my point.  As an employer, the City of Austin needs to pay well to attract and retain talent.  In fact, I think the City is a very good place to work.  My point is that adding staff has now become a very difficult and expensive decision.

It is my hope that we can get the levy increase down to low single digits.  I am happy to see renewed public interest in how our City is governed and the issues we face.  I hope folks reach out and talk to their elected officials and let us know how you feel.  After all, it is your money!

Geoff Baker

Austin City Council – First Ward