The Park Rapids City Council approved a preliminary general fund budget and property tax levy Tuesday for fiscal year 2020.

During a budget workshop before the council’s regular meeting, City Treasurer Angela Brumbaugh reported that, on the revenue side, the city expects to receive $553,279 in Local Government Aid (LGA) next year, a $56,891 increase from fiscal year 2019. She said this is the largest increase since 2014 and brings LGA to its highest level since 2006.

The property tax levy proposed by the city’s finance committee had a general fund total of $2,065,953, an increase of $109,060 or 5.7 percent from this year, and bond debt service totaling $722,327, an increase of $10,822 or 1.52 percent, for a total levy of $2,788,280, an increase of $115,382 or 4.32 percent.

Considering the levy, LGA and other sources of revenue, the finance committee’s proposed general fund budget for 2020 totaled $3,524,294, an increase of $215,061 or 6.5 percent from the current year.

Brumbaugh explained that these increases include 3 percent increases for workers comp, property and liability insurance and a 2 percent increase for auto insurance, based on mid-range increases suggested by the League of Minnesota Cities. The total budget for insurance increased $1,977 or 1 percent.

The budget for salaries is increasing $110,293 or 6.4 percent. Salaries account for 52.4 percent of the city’s general fund budget, totaling $1,830,413.

Employee health insurance is increasing $27,809, including coverage for a new police officer and $25-50 increases for single and family policies, for a total budget of $289,712.

Retirement contributions are increasing 0.75 percent for police only, a total increase of $5,600.

Amounts the finance committee cut from department heads’ requested budget included $13,000 toward the city’s share of fueling facility that the county isn’t building next year, a $1,000 increase for park buildings’ repair and maintenance, $9,700 for engineering fees and $4,300 for soil boring at the city’s tennis courts because these items are not in the capital improvement plan; and $1,800 to the Paul Bunyan Task Force due to a duplicate line item.

Adding $500 for council members to attend conferences, the finance committee’s changes from staff recommendations represented a total budget cut of $29,300.

Council makes changes

Regarding budget choices the finance committee left up to the city council, significant discussion was devoted to a $1,000 request by Fire Chief Terry Long for a tablet and data service to patch the lead fire engine into Active 911 while en route to emergency calls.

Long said the tablet could help firefighters locate hydrants and estimate the arrival time of firefighters responding to a call.

Brumbaugh said that the way government phone accounts are handled does not allow the tablet’s data plan to be bundled with the city’s existing plans.

Regarding a line item for the fire department’s landline, Long noted that it would be needed if the fire hall gets a remote access fire alarm system.

In other items, the council asked Brumbaugh to add $20,000 to the budget to replace the city’s air siren, currently kept going by monthly repairs.

They debated whether the air siren system is obsolete and should be let go, in favor of cell phone notifications. City Administrator Ryan Mathisrud said that when another city he worked for was hit by a tornado, citizen feedback prompted the city council to replace their air sirens.

Other changes the council approved included a $550 increase for Mathisrud’s conference attendance and a $75 decrease for his association dues. Brumbaugh said Mathisrud wants to join the International City Management Association and the Minnesota City Management Association. Meantime, the city cannot pay his dues for the Rotary Club, accounting for the net decrease.

Taking all these changes into account, council member Erika Randall moved to approve a preliminary budget totaling $3,515,469, and made a separate motion approving the general fund levy of $2,086,428 and a total preliminary levy of $2,808,755. Both motions passed unopposed.

A Truth in Taxation meeting, at which the 2020 budget and levy will be discussed and the public will be allowed to speak, is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 10 at city hall.

The final budget and levy, which can decrease but not increase from the preliminary numbers approved on Tuesday, will also come up for council approval on Dec. 10.