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Park Rapids levy increase may mean lower taxes

Council members on Nov. 22 debated whether the budget should project across-the-board wage increases.

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Park Rapids City Hall
Park Rapids Enterprise file photo
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The Park Rapids City Council reviewed the city’s 2023 budget and capital improvement plan (CIP) in a Nov. 22 work session.

City Administrator Angel Weasner presented a $3,049,758 proposed property tax levy, a 4% increase from last year. However, she noted this would result in a decrease in property owners’ actual taxes from a year ago.

For example, according to a worksheet Weasner distributed to the council, the owner of a $50,000 home would see an estimated tax decrease of about $20 per year or $1.66 per month.

Meanwhile, the owner of a $100,000 home would pay about $40 less per year or $3.32 less per month; of a $150,000 home, about $60 less per year or $5 less per month; of a $200,000 home, about $80 less per year or $6.64 less per month; of a $250,000 home, about $100 less per year or $8.30 less per month; and of a $300,000 home, about $120 less per year or $10 less per month.

She said the city’s tax capacity rate has been decreasing, from 77% in 2021 to 68% in 2022. In 2023, she said, “feasibly, it should go down to 64%.”

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Weasner clarified that these estimated tax decreases assume the home’s value stays the same. With that assumption, she said, these decreases could be expected despite the increase in the city’s levy.

Council member Erika Randall stressed that any actual increases in a property owner’s taxes would be due to an increase in their assessed valuation, which is out of the city’s control.

The general fund and debt service budget for 2023 totals $5,813,499, Weasner reported, a decrease of $890,000 or 15.3% from the city’s final expenses for 2022.

The total proposed budget for all funds, including the airport fund, special revenue fund and enterprise funds (water, sewer, etc.) is $15,753,080, Weasner reported.

Randall challenged the budget’s provision for an across-the-board, 4% increase in salaries.

Weasner said that apart from the patrol officers’ union labor agreement, which was approved at that evening’s regular council meeting, the other salaries were still being negotiated.

Randall urged looking at the administration staff’s wages differently than employees who are represented by unions, noting that administration salaries increased during the past year as duties were shifted.

“Usually, if we negotiate a 4% (increase) with our union folks, non-union folks, which is our admin and our department heads, automatically get that same amount,” she said. “I’m opposed to that happening this year without some explanation that we’re still underpaying that admin staff. I think we need to look at that differently this year.”

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Council member Tom Conway disagreed, arguing that the labor market has been “outrageous” this year, suggesting there needs to be discussion of how to keep wages competitive and not just for police officers.

Mayor Ryan Leckner suggested leaving the increases in the budget because the wages haven’t been negotiated yet. However, Randall said the city can set non-union wages.

“I would need to see something that says that we’re not competitive with where we’re at right now,” she said, “because I think we are. Yes, there were added duties, but we didn’t set the bar low when we added those duties.”

Weasner asked council members if they wanted another work session to discuss the budget prior to approving it at their Dec. 13 meeting. She said she would work with them to schedule the meeting within the next two weeks.

Capital improvement plan

Weasner also presented the city’s five-year CIP, also slated for approval on Dec. 13. While expenditures projected for 2023 are already included in the budget, she said, future years’ priorities can be moved up or down as the city’s needs change.

Randall asked that the fire department provide a replacement schedule for firefighters’ turnout gear, so the city can budget accordingly. She said this is an ongoing request that predates Joe Carlson’s appointment as fire chief.

“We just need some documentation about what needs to get replaced,” she said.

Weasner said she would ask Carlson about this, and that they expect to need to replace three sets of gear next year. She said the department’s vehicle replacement schedule is nearly complete, and that was their first priority.

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Asked about the replacement schedules, Randall explained that in addition to wear and tear, fire gear has an expected lifespan and that keeping track of this should help the fire department budget for its equipment needs.

MORE RELATED COVERAGE:
Department heads gave a report on the past year or two at a city council workshop on Jan. 24.

Robin Fish is a staff reporter at the Park Rapids Enterprise. Contact him at rfish@parkrapidsenterprise.com or 218-252-3053.
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