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Town Talk: Explaining the city’s budget process

On Dec. 17, 2019 the City Council approved the final budget for 2020. The process that goes into creating a city budget is a long, complicated and challenging process that starts in May each year. Staff starts by estimating all the expenses each department will have in the coming year. Once the expenses are figured we need to look at all revenue sources to determine if we will have enough to cover the expenses.

Revenue sources include local government aid, charges for services, licenses and permits, state and federal funding, and, of course, property taxes. Taxes provided nearly one third of the City’s revenue. In 2020 the City will collect $7,896,725 in property taxes. So how will those tax dollars be spent?

For each tax dollar received 25 cents will be used to make principle and interest payments on the bonds the City has issued. Public Safety, which includes the police and fire departments, will receive 19 cents. Public works will get 18 cents to maintain, repair, and replace streets, engineer projects and provide plowing and other services. The Park and Recreation departments will get 13 cents for parks, buildings, programs, and services. The library will get 10 cents. The remainder of each dollar will be split with 10 cents going to the general administration of the City, 4 cents to capital improvement projects and 1 cent to the city cemetery.

At the end of each fiscal year any difference between the total expenses and revenues is added to or subtracted from the City’s fund balance. Fund balance is basically the City’s savings account. As a local government we are required to hold enough funds in our savings to cover 35-50% of our annual budgeted expenses. Over the years the City has been able to build this balance to a healthy level and has budgeted the use of some of these funds in 2020. These funds make it possible to complete capital projects without additional increases in the property tax levy. In 2020 the City will use a small portion of these funds to help pay for the replacement of the Hermann Heights retaining wall, ADA compliant pedestrian ramps, and an additional pump to help during highwater events. In addition to the City’s General Fund balances there are other funds available that have been set aside and restricted for specific purposes. Some restricted funds will be used in 2020 to complete projects in German Park, Riverside Park, and in the main fire station.

Throughout the budget process there are opportunities for citizens to provide input and feedback. In September of each year the preliminary budget is presented at a council meeting and a public hearing date is set in December. At the public hearing possible changes are discussed to give the staff direction in setting the final budget. At the last council meeting of the year the final budget is approved, and the property tax levy is set.

All City and Public Utilities budgets and financial reports are available for inspection in the City Hall Finance office and on the City’s website.

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Editor’s Note: The City of New Ulm presents a weekly column highlighting activities in different departments in the city government. Once a month the city will answer questions from readers. Questions on New Ulm city issues can be sent to comments@ci.new-ulm.mn.us.

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