Woodbury council nixes proposal to increase water fees, EMS fund gets biggest boost
Though Woodbury's proposed 2012 property tax levy is flat, water rates were set to go up slightly.
But City Council suggested Wednesday at its annual budget workshop to keep water rates stable instead of imposing a 3.4 percent increase.
Water rates in Woodbury have stayed flat for six consecutives years at $0.88 per 1,000 gallons, but the 2012 budget proposed an increase to $0.91 per 1,000 gallons -- a 3.4 percent change. The average Woodbury home uses about 23,000 gallons in a billing period, according to city data.
The reason for the proposal is the 1 percent increase the Metropolitan Council Environmental Services is estimating on its side. However, the budget does not propose any rate changes in sanitary sewer, storm water or street lighting.
Council member Paul Rebholz said since the water and sewer utility fund has some healthy reserves, a small rate change isn't crucial, and average water consumers shouldn't be penalized or make up for irrigational users.
"Given the modest increase and the fund balance, I don't think it's necessary," he said, with the rest of the council agreeing.
On the other hand, a 7 percent increase is expected in the EMS ambulance rates to make up for a reduction in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements and to help pay for a new 30-hour a week administrative-assistant position.
City Administrator Clint Gridley said with reimbursement restrictions by health care insurance companies and the addition of fire/paramedic personnel, there is pressure for the EMS fund to be self supporting, but that's not feasible. The fees would go up by $93 a call, according to the new budget.
Overall, the city has not hired replacements for eight positions that opened up since 2008, and it has not had any layoffs.
In line with the times
Though Woodbury has a AAA bond rating -- the highest possible -- it's not immune to economic hardships.
Revenue sources such as investment earnings, licenses and permit fees have been fluctuating since 2008 with a 35 percent - or $1.6 million - decline from 2008 to 2012.
Revenues from permits and licenses have gone down by about $100,000 every year -- from $800,000 in 2007 to $300,000 in 2011. It's projected at $300,000 for 2012 as well.
The relative good times of 2007 may be gone, but Woodbury had what Gridley called a good year in 2010 with revenue drawn from major developments, including SuperTarget and CityWalk.
"While we've had this great year from a budget standpoint, we couldn't anticipate for it," Gridley said, adding that the budget has "really reflected the recession."
The proposed levy is at a historic low -- this year's flat rate is significantly below the 20-year average of 10.2 percent increase.