Woodbury approves new budget with 2.4 percent tax levy increaseAlthough the approved property tax levy has an impact of a $6 increase on the average value home in Woodbury, residents who spoke at the annual Truth-in-Taxation hearing have seen significant increases on their tax bills.
By: Riham Feshir, Woodbury Bulletin
Although the approved property tax levy has an impact of a $6 increase on the average value home in Woodbury, residents who spoke at the annual Truth-in-Taxation hearing have seen significant increases on their tax bills.
Patrick Wyant said his property value increased slightly but his taxes went up a lot more than he expected.
“That’s just a significant increase for one year,” he said.
Fred and Sue Lindner sent an email to the city that was read at the Wednesday Truth-in-Taxation hearing.
The Lindners said their taxes went up by 15.6 percent, which was a “bad surprise.”
City Council approved the property tax levy at $28,853,229 at the annual Truth-in-Taxation hearing, with one council member voting against the increase.
The levy was reduced from a 3.25 percent proposed increase in August to 2.4 percent after the council cut about $220,000 from the 2013 budget.
The impact on each home in Woodbury will be different, City Administrator Clint Gridley said. But he said the easiest way to look it is by figuring what the impact will be on the average value home, which sits at $235,700 in 2012.
“The impact of every property is unique,” he said. “Some values went up, some values went down a little…”
The city’s 2013 expenditures are budgeted at $61.9 million, which is a 4.1 percent decrease from 2012’s $64.5 million.
The budget reflects an increase of 3.2 percent in the general fund, which is the city’s primary operating budget.
For 2013, the general fund will be $28 million, compared with $27.1 million in 2012.
Property taxes at $20.4 million account for 73 percent of the revenues, while the rest comes from new home and business construction permit fees, charges for services and transfers from other funds.
The new budget reflects the addition of two police officers/firefighters, one less building inspector position and no increases in water, sanitary sewer, storm water, street lights or emergency medical response service.
Gridley said those who saw an increase in property values have to contribute more to the tax system, which explains why they’re being taxed more than others.
“Your piece of the tax pie grew,” he told Wyant.
Craig Schwartz said the city’s portion of his tax bill is about 7 percent, also higher than last year.
But that’s not what he came before the council to address.
“My biggest concern is the growth of government,” he said. “And growth of government at every level.”
After reading the 280-page budget document he said he saw the biggest driver for the city’s expenses comes from employee salaries.
However, it’s not clear what percentage of the budget goes to salaries and benefits, he said.
“I’m concerned about whether we’re getting the government that we’re paying for,” he said. “Are the salaries just?”
Schwartz expressed concern over the difference in productivity between the private and public sectors, which prompted Gridley to explain how staffing and performance measurements are done at City Hall.
The 2013 budget indicates for every 1,000 residents, the city hires 4.39 employees. That leaves the city with a total of 280.30 employees for the 63,898 residents of Woodbury.
Staffing has grown as the city population continues to increase, according to the budget that states in 2003 the city had 241 employees.
Gridley said in terms of performance measurements, city staff is constantly evaluating productivity levels and compares well to other communities when it comes to salaries.
Actual to budget
Bob Nelson wondered why the city always compares current year budget to next year’s budget when determining the levy, instead of comparing what the actual amounts of revenues and expenses ended at to next year’s budget.
“The council needs to look at what you actually spent,” he said, adding that the 3.2 percent increase in the general fund looks smaller than it actually is.
“We’re putting dollars in savings accounts, for what, I’m not sure,” Nelson said.
Council Member Paul Rebholz said Woodbury has been the community that other cities “envy” because of its economic recovery and growth.
“The community is growing,” he said. “There is a cost associated with that and I think that that’s what we try to balance.”
Council Member Christopher Burns was the sole “no” vote against Wednesday’s measure to pass the 2013 budget and increase in property tax levy.
Although he thought the drop from the preliminary levy was a step in the right direction, he said it still wasn’t enough.
“I was hoping for an even better budget,” he said in an interview. “I thought that we had a means to get to a 0 dollar increase on the average value home this year.”
Citing the possibility that folks in Woodbury may see tax hikes on the federal level due to the fiscal cliff, he said it would’ve been nice to ease the burden on the local level.
The budget states that about 55 percent of homeowners will see a tax increase of some sort, whether it’s the $6 dollar on the average home or more.
“The average value home statistic is a bit misleading,” Burns acknowledged, adding, “It seemed like this year we could’ve tighten the belt a notch.”