City makes small cuts in 2019 levy at budget hearing

NEW ULM — The City Council made a slight cut to the 2019 preliminary tax levy during the Truth-in-Taxation meeting, Tuesday.

In September, the council set the preliminary tax levy at $7,759,527. This is an increase of 7.42 percent from the 2018 budget. Due to changes in the county and city tax capacity, it is estimated the levy increase could result in a small increase of 0.12 percent in the city tax rate.

The impact to each household will depend on the property’s taxable market value. Based on information from the County Assessor, taxable market values have increased by seven percent. The average New Ulm resident is estimated to pay $878.28 a year in taxes for 2019. This is a $74 increase from 2018.

During the hearing, Council member Les Schultz made a motion to remove funds for a review of the city’s General Plan from the budget. The budget contained a $30,000 allocation to fund the review, coming from city reserve funds. Since the city is hiring a new city manager this year and won’t be doing the review until after the new person is in place, Schultz said this was something that should go in the 2020 budget.

The council unanimously approved the motion, but this reduction did not reduce the levy since the cost was coming from city reserves.

Schultz also suggested reducing the payment to the Sinking Fund for Fire Trucks. Currently, $1.6 million is in this account to pay for fire truck replacement. Schultz said some of these trucks can cost $1 million, but the next three scheduled replacements are under $500,000. He believed the $256,000 earmarked for this account could be reduced to $200,000.

“I think we need to put some in there, but I don’t know if we need to put quite that much in there,” Schultz said.

Council President Charlie Schmitz said he did not want to delay putting money into the fire truck account, especially since the city did not put anything into the account last year.

Councilor Lisa Fischer said she thought the city could afford to reduce the payment by $56,000.

Councilor David Christian asked if the fire truck replacement costs factored in inflation.

Fire Chief Paul Macho said they built in a five percent inflation rate into the replacement cost estimate, but said with the new steel tariffs, he expected inflation to increase for new fire fighting vehicles.

The council ultimately decided to make the $56,000 cut in the sinking fund, which reduces the levy increase to 6.64 percent and reduces the tax rate by 0.62 percent.

Lastly, Schultz recommended the city reduce the Salary Administration Budget by $10,000. Schultz said this was related to the changes at the Police Department in terms of staffing.

Police Chief David Borchert said there is going to be a reduction in hourly salary regardless of who gets promoted to the vacant Sergeant position. He believed they could cover the reduction by delaying filling a position if necessary.

Schmitz said the city needed to setup a work sessions to discuss the growing Park and Recreation Budget. He said the city New Ulm has a great park system, but it also the source for a large portion of the city’s taxes and with new RENU projects this tax will only increase.

“I want it know for the public that it is coming,” he said.

Christian agreed it was a source of concern, he said “I don’t think the tax payers realize what we’re spending on Park and Recreation.”

New Ulm is currently ranked third per capita for Park and Recreation budget. Christian said after the RENU projects are finished New Ulm will likely be number one.

“We have a great park system,” Christian said “But don’t look for us to lower taxes by five percent next year. When this RENU project is done, taxes will go up.”

The council made no other cuts the budget or levy during this meeting. No official decision on the final tax levy was made during this meeting. The final vote will be taken during the next council meeting on Dec. 18.

The city must adopt a final budget and tax levy before the end of the year. The final tax levy cannot be higher than the preliminary tax levy. This means the 2019 levy cannot exceed the 7.42 percent.

Fourth Ward polling place to be relocated

The city is seeking alternative polling locations for the Fourth Ward. Every the year the city must designate polling location. In 2018, the city combined precinct polling places, reducing the number of polls from eight to four. For 2019, staff recommending using the same polling location, except for the Fourth Ward.

During the November election, the Fourth Ward polling place was the Harman Park Shelter, but this site had unanticipated challenges. Several citizens voiced concerns about it and staff recommend the Ward Four polling place be changed from Harman Park to Vogel Fieldhouse, with Harman Park Shelter serving as an alternate location.

Finance Director Nicole Jorgensen said 2019 is not an election year and likely no polling locations will be needed, but the city must designate sites if a special election is scheduled.

League of Women Voters President Ruth Ann Webster said during the primary, the league watched the polls and noticed problems with the Harman site. The Harman Park shelter has a small parking lot and is adjacent to Garden Street, which has high traffic.

Webster urged the council to find a new site to avoid using Harman as an alternative location.

Andrea Boettger agreed, the polling location should move since it was a safety hazard. Boettger said she was the person who called 911 after a pedestrian was struck attempting to cross the street on election day.

“I feel are city could do a better job finding another polling location,” she said.

Jorgensen said staff is open to suggestions for additional location to replace Harman Park shelter.

The council voted to change the designated polling location for Ward Four to Vogel Fieldhouse, and maintain Harman Park as an alternative site.

On of the obstacles facing Vogel Arena is this location will likely be under construction due to the upcoming RENU projects. Depending on the schedule, Vogel Fieldhouse might not be available as a polling location for the 2020 Presidential election.