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City proposes 4.4% tax levy hike but also 14% decrease in budget

The Woodbury City Council approved a 4.4 percent increase in the city’s property tax levy for 2016 this week, but that amount should be lower — to more like 3.9 percent — before the final 2016 property tax levy and budget is approved in December.

At the base of the proposed levy increase is a large staffing request from Woodbury Public Safety, for four new paramedics.

On a 4-1 vote, Woodbury City Council members approved 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 at a Sept. 16 budget workshop — 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.

As approved at the Sept. 23 City Council meeting, the preliminary tax levy represents a property tax increase of about $40 on a home with the average estimated market value of $279,400. 

The additional $312,320 is being added to the general fund through an EMS fund transfer, 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, 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 City Council wants to keep the property tax levy rate increase below 4 percent. In order to do so, council directed Johnson and city staff to find about $150,000 in cuts elsewhere in the budget, and bring the property tax levy increase to 3.9 percent. 

The preliminary tax levy approved 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 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 to where it should be, but the plan does come with a cost.

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 about $78,000, which would also go toward covering the addition of the positions. From 2006-2015, Woodbury has typically increased that rate by 3.4 percent, according to Johnson.

Council member Christopher Burns cast the dissenting vote on the preliminary budget and levy. The budget, Burns said, could have been trimmed more by eliminating a position request from the communications department, by printing fewer newsletters and finding other savings, and by phasing in the four new paramedic positions throughout the year. 

“In the past we have had a good experience with adding two people at a time,” he said. “It takes time for people on the police/EMT side of things to develop. A more phased-in plan would have made more sense. All of those things in mind, I think we could have gotten to a lower budget number to begin with.”

Though the City Council approved the preliminary budget and levy, 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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