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Afton eyes almost 10 percent tax levy increase for 2017

Afton residents may see an almost 10 percent tax levy increase next year because city officials say deteriorating roads are becoming a major concern and sizeable cost.

Last month, the Afton City Council approved a preliminary budget for next year that would include a 9.86 percent levy increase. The potential increase comes following an Afton Public Works Committee survey showing that nearly half of Afton's roads are in need of either reconstruction or maintenance.

These repairs would cost more than $6.7 million if done at once.

Officials say that delaying reconstruction of the city's worst roads may not increase the cost of construction and would require people to put up with poor roads for longer.

"The proposed levy increase may not be enough to guarantee the city addresses the roads without future bonding," said Afton Mayor Richard Bend. He suggested the roads could be maintained on a pay-as-you-go basis barring no unforeseen expenditures and revenue drops, as well as restrained spending.

Bend also said he would have prefered setting a 14 percent increase that could be reduced before officials finalize the budget.

The council approved a 9 percent levy increase for 2016 last year.

Some council members expressed concerns that the need for city repairs may lead to steady tax increases for the foreseeable future.

"We can come up with the greatest plan in pay as you go, but if we raise taxes 10 percent or 15 percent every year, none of us will be here," said council member Randy Nelson during a Sept. 20 meeting.

The city is also assessing those in Afton's Old Village for the $12.5 million sewer project — likely the largest project in the city's history.

Council Member Bill Palmquist, whose ward covers the downtown area, said he worries people there will be hit hard with both a tax increase as well as sewer assessments .

"I have a lot of people who are going to get just slammed when this project is done downtown," Palmquist said. "It's just too much, too quick."

In a letter to residents, Bend that he worries putting off resurfacing and maintenance, such as Mill-and-overlay, crack sealing and micro coating, may also increase the total repair costs because roads in need of maintenance could worsen and need to be reconstructed.

He proposed a 10 year bond with a 2 percent interest rate could be used to pay for road repairs.

Minnesota cities are required to submit preliminary budgets before the end of September. The budget is not set in stone and can't be increased after city officials submit it.

The council will vote on a finalized budget and levy at its Dec. 20 meeting.