Winthrop City Council OKs final property tax levy

Mayor Kelly Pierson talk and listen at the Winthrop City Council meeting Monday.

WINTHROP — The Winthrop City Council unanimously approved a resolution adopting a 6.48 percent 2019 final property tax levy increase Monday.

Approved on a motion by councilor Lyle Muth, seconded by Bob Rickheim, the $725,117 levy is 11.5 percent under the proposed 18 percent city tax levy hike that recently appeared in proposed tax statements mailed to landowners.

The city council reviewed the proposed 2019 budget at an Oct. 23 special meeting and proposed cutting $37,631 from the budget.

Cuts include $19,000 for street repairs, $5,000 for part-time police, $5,000 for municipal building window capital reserves, $4,631 for legal costs, $1,500 for professional fire service, $600 for police telephone costs, and $500 each for temporary snow removal work, plus library carpet and computer reserves.

In addition, the city council approved moving $34,854 from reserves to the general fund including $15,000 from the Small Cities Assistance Fund, $15,000 from the RS Fiber Reserve Fund and $4,854 from fines and forfeitures.

The city council also:

• Heard City Administrator Jenny Hazelton report that electronic water and power meters are being considered.

“Some of our meters are off 50 percent. New electronic meters will pay themselves in months,” Hazelton said.

• At an open public forum to begin the meeting, Winthrop resident Mark Santelman voiced his displeasure with the news at a recent RS Fiber Joint Powers Board meeting, that $1.07 million in subordinated debt payments to fund economic development loan bond payments, will not be made by the cooperative for the next two years.

Gaylord has the biggest two-year bill at $268,572.72. Payment amounts estimated for the other RS Fiber project cities are Winthrop $172,586.15; Fairfax $155,622.56; Gibbon $106,312.21; Brownton $94,090.02; Stewart $70,383.13; Lafayette $65,747.10; Green Isle $64,693.46; and New Auburn $55,632.17.

“Now you know what the difference between democracy and socialism looks like,” Santelman said. “You reach into the pockets of people who don’t want something, for the benefit of a few. I sat here four years ago and I begged you for a public vote. This RS Fiber thing is nothing but a financial disaster.

“You have the elderly and families in this community who now have to reach into their pockets, who didn’t want it and didn’t need it, and now have to bail this thing out,” Santelman said. “All for a few farmers who couldn’t get high-speed Internet. We could have had a vote. I think each of you (councilors) who voted for this should resign. The citizens of Winthrop are your constituency. It’s not the farmers.”

Nobody else spoke at the public forum.

• Later in the meeting, councilor Julie Trebelhorn said the RS Fiber Joint Powers Board is moving forward and is very appreciative and mindful of financial support being shown by project cities.

“Support is still strong. Everybody at the meeting supports it,” Trebelhorn said. “They want people to know the service is here. It’s not going anywhere. It’s a fabulous service. RS Fiber’s rural air service is far better than what anybody else can get.”

Trebelhorn said rural air customers have to be in line of sight of the air towers to receive service.

In addition, Trebelhorn said the RS Fiber project increases home values and increases market competition.

A member of the RS Fiber Joint Powers Board, Trebelhorn said anybody with questions about the service can contact her. She said she’ll keep the city council informed about what happens with the project at future meetings.

• Mayor Kelly Pierson thanked councilor Lyle Muth for 15 years of service and thanked the family of late Sibley County Sheriff Bruce Ponath for his many years of service.

Fritz Busch can be emailed at fbusch@nujournal.com.

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