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Afton eyes very rare tax levy hike -- proposed at 13 percent

Afton City Council has worked very hard over the past several years to keep its tax increase to a minimum, but low taxes might not be the case next year. 

Afton residents could see as much as a 13 percent levy increase for 2016. 

“I think 13 percent is going to be shocking to most people,” Council Member Joe Richter said. 

“It’s a big scary number right now,” Council Member Bill Palmquist said. “We’ve been trying to have a zero percent increase for years, though, and now the chickens are coming home to roost.” 

City Council looked at the preliminary 2016 budget for the first time during a workshop on Aug. 14. 

The preliminary budget City Council discussed last week is set at $1.19 million for expenditures, which is a 6.6 percent increase over this year. 

The preliminary 2016 levy is set at $1.9 million, which is an increase of 13.04 percent. 

The key items affecting the 2016 budget are as follows: 

  • Crack sealing and seal-coating expenditures have increased by $,3,000, or 5.6 percent.
  • Road surface maintenance and pothole repair expenditures have increased by $16,000, or 53.3 percent.
  • Brush and tree trimming and mowing along roadways and culvert repair expenditures have increased by $14,000, or 56 percent.
  • Building inspection fees are up $5,250, or  23.1 percent, to reflect additional building and remodeling.
  • City administrator pay is increasing by $5,887, or 6.6 percent, due to the 3 percent cost-of-living adjustment and step adjustment.
  • Fire and ambulance service expenditures are up $12,940, or 5.9 percent, which reflects the Lower St. Croix Valley Fire Departments $20,990, or 4.91 percent, increase in its charges to its contracted cities and a large cost share for Afton due to the cost allocation formula.
  • Police service expenditures are up $2,100, or 1.2 percent, based on the estimated cost increased from the Washington County Sheriff’s Department. 
  • Building permit revenue is up $8,000, or 12.3 percent.

City Administrator Ron Moorse said several of the budget increases, primarily roads, are needed this year to account for not having increases in previous years. 

“If we don’t increase the budget, we’re going to be in the same place next year and it’s getting worse,” he said. 

Additionally, the city is still incurring costs and is having to take money from other funds. 

“If we put off raising the budget,” Moorse said, “I don’t think we’ll be able to put off incurring those costs.” 

Council Member Randy Nelson said he agrees with the expenditure increases. 

“It’s great to say there’s no increase,” he said, “but when everyone calls and complains about things not getting done, what good does it do?” 

The key items requiring the 13 percent levy increase are: citywide high-speed Internet expansion; debt service related to the downtown improvement projects; and the general fund expenditures increases. 

The city’s share of property taxes on a $200,000 home will average out to be $568, which is an increase of $67, or 13 percent.

Property taxes on a $500,000 home would be $1,571, an increase of $186. 

A commercial property valued at $500,000 would have property taxes of $2,907, an increase of $344.

While council members acknowledged that a 13 percent levy increase will be a tough number for residents to stomach, they also acknowledged the need. 

“I think we need to bite the bullet and increase the tax levy for what has to be done,” Mayor Dick Bend said, “and then tighten our belt on things that are not necessary for the health, safety and welfare of the residents.” 

Between now and the final budget and levy approval in December, City Council agreed to trim where it can in order to lower the levy. 

“Because we were prudent, we didn’t have to hit people when the economy was bad,” Bend said. “This will cost less in the long run. 

“Thirteen is my family’s lucky number, but most other people don’t see it that way.” 

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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