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Woodbury officials eye 4.4 percent tax levy increase

The need for four new paramedics is having an impact on the City of Woodbury’s 2016 preliminary budget and levy.

At a Sept. 16 budget workshop, the Woodbury City Council heard budget proposals from all of the city’s department leaders. The proposals are included in the preliminary budget and levy, scheduled for adoption at the Sept. 23 regular city council meeting.

However, a large staffing request from the Public Safety Department, for four new paramedics, is changing was what was originally presented during last week’s budget workshop.

This week, council members will likely approve a total budget of $74,628,539, which does  represent a 14 percent decrease from the 2015 budget. The number is higher than what was initially presented -- which was $73,954,509 -- because council members gave the go-ahead to include another $312,320 in the city’s General Fund budget to cover the four paramedic positions.

What is coming before city officials this week represents a 4.4 percent property tax levy increase. It will represent an property tax increase of approximately $40 on an average market value home of $279,400.

While council members will likely approve the proposed tax levy increase, it is unlikely the property tax levy will be at that same level when the final 2016 budget and levy are approved in December.

The additional $312,320 is being added to the General Fund through a transfer from the EMS Fund, but the funds still come through property tax levy, according to City of Woodbury Finance Director Tim Johnson.

The addition brings the General Fund budget to $32,405,414.

However, the city council desires to keep the property tax levy rate increase below 4 percent. In giving the nod to the addition of the four positions, council members, at the workshop, also directed Johnson and city staff to find approximately $150,000 in cuts elsewhere in the budget. Doing so would bring the property tax levy increase to 3.9 percent, which is well under the metro area’s average of 4.8 percent.

The preliminary tax levy proposed this week is $1,034 on an average market value home. However, by cutting the $150,000, the $40 property tax levy increase to the same home will drop to $35.

In an August workshop, council members learned that the Woodbury Public Safety division was falling behind with its paramedics staffing, due, in part to the population’s increase, a number of stagnant hiring years during the recession, and to staff being promoted to other positions within the division. Public Safety Director Lee Vague introduced a five-year plan to bring up the staffing level back up to where it should be, but that plan does come with a cost.

Council members do understand the need for the additional public safety staff. That four are needed in the first year of the plan requires a big financial commitment, they know.

“That hit in the first year is just something that’s giving us a budget conundrum,” Councilmember Christopher Burns said at last week’s workshop.

“I like the original budget better, but I think I see why we need to do this,” Councilmember Amy Scoggins said.

In addition to the increase to the General Fund budget, council members were also asked to consider raising the EMS rate by 9 percent, to $1,643 per ambulance call, to help cover the four positions. Doing so would generate approximately $78,000, which would also go toward covering the addition of the positions. From 2006 through 2015, Woodbury has typically increased that rate by 3.4 percent, according to Johnson.

Though the city council is expected to approve the preliminary budget and levy at this week’s meeting, city staff will spend the next several weeks sifting through the budget to identify cuts. The budget will be reviewed again at a Nov. 4 workshop. The final budget and levy will be adopted during the Dec. 9 regular city council meeting.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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