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Woodbury City Council approves 2010 tax, spending plan

Resident Mark Wackerfuss told council members the city should hold down employee salaries because of difficult economic conditions. Wackerfuss was one of a handful of residents who spoke at the public hearing to air their concerns about the city's budget and levy. Staff photo by Scott Wente.

The numbers are crunched, the spending approved, the tax levy adopted.

Woodbury City Council members unanimously backed a 2010 city budget that spends a fraction more than was spent this year and increases the property tax levy by nearly 3 percent.

The city is trying to get through the economic recession, Mayor Bill Hargis said. It has seen a drop in property values, building permit revenue and tax collections, and could lose property tax revenue as a growing number of landowners contest property assessments.

Despite those challenges, the city budget plan does not slash jobs, because big layoffs result in the loss of good workers, Hargis said.

"I think overall the city has done a good job managing its finances," he added.

City administrator Clint Gridley said budget challenges are being managed in a fiscally responsible way, "but in a way that doesn't tear down what has been built up."

Here is a breakdown of budget issues:

How much are they spending?

The 2010 general fund, which covers day-to-day operations, is expected to be $25.97 million, a 0.2 percent increase over this year's spending.

The overall city budget, however, was set at $76 million. It includes the general fund, capital improvement projects, federal economic stimulus dollars, debt payments and the city Housing and Redevelopment Authority.

Who's getting raises?

City employees will not receive a cost-of-living salary increase in 2010. Administrative salaries are not increasing, either.

Where's the new spending?

Mostly in public safety. The city plans to fill four police officer positions, and council members approved two of the hires Dec. 9. A full-time firefighter is being added to the ranks, and a public works position also is being filled.

Council member Paul Rebholz said the city could decide in 2010 to hold off on filling open positions if new budget problems emerge.

What's the effect on my pocketbook?

That depends. Residential property that has declined in value may see a property tax cut. But if the decrease was minimal or if the value increased, a property tax increase could follow.

Some city fees are increasing marginally. Two fee hikes - for street lights and sewers - are the result of utilities' increased fees to the city. It will cost more if you need ambulance service.

Why should I care?

Do you like police service? How about plowed streets? The city provides a variety of basic services, including public safety, infrastructure work and maintenance, development planning and building safety inspections. It also spends money on niceties that city officials claim are valued by citizens, such as parks and trails, the Bielenberg Sports Center and environmental programs.

A handful of residents told council members Dec. 9 that the city should spend less money because of the economic recession.

"If we don't quit the spending, we're going to be in deep, deep trouble," Jim Hasselman of Woodbury said. "And it starts with you."

What's the levy?

The council voted to increase property tax collections 2.91 percent, but that does not necessarily mean a city property tax increase for homeowners. Homes that saw assessed values drop by more than 6 percent will see a decrease in their city property taxes.

The city expects to collect $27.5 million in property taxes in 2010.

How are the reserves?

They're feeling used. The city plans to tap $313,000 of reserve funds to help balance the budget. Council members could have opted for $242,000 in reserves, but that would have resulted in a larger levy increase. More reserve funds mean fewer property tax dollars.

How does Woodbury compare?

Woodbury's levy increase of 2.91 percent is below an average levy hike of 5.4 percent for cities statewide. It also is below the 3.77 percent average increase of comparable Twin Cities communities, Gridley said.

Can the budget change?

Yes. There is precedent for mid-year budget cuts - this year, for instance. The city cut $1.5 million in spending months after setting the 2009 budget.

Attending the final council meeting of the year to comment on next year's budget may be too late.

Hargis encouraged citizens to look at opportunities earlier in the year if they want to influence city spending. "I'm not going to propose a big whack to the budget now," he said last week.

Attending an hours-long budget workshop in August is a good way to learn about city finances, council member Amy Scoggins said. "I'd like to see more residents come to that meeting