Though the city portion of Brainerd residents' taxes may increase in 2004, their overall taxes -- which include the county and school district -- could remain the same as they were in 2003.
The Brainerd City Council on Tuesday, by a 4-2 vote, directed staffers to present a preliminary 2004 levy of $2,500,414 at the Dec. 8 taxation public hearing, which translates to a total tax rate of 99.49 percent -- a slight decrease from the 2003 total rate of 99.627 -- which includes the city, county and school district.
Though the overall tax rate for Brainerd residents will stay the same, the city portion of their taxes could increase because property values have increased, said City Administrator Dan Vogt. The city's portion of the total tax rate would be from 37.299 percent in 2003 to 41.851 percent in 2004.
The motion, made by council member Kelly Bevans, included the use of $100,000 in sewer and water availability charges for debt service payments and sets equipment certificate bonding at $250,000, which will be used for equipment purchases for several departments, including the fire department. The motion was a change from a decision in October, when the council approved among its budget cuts reducing the equipment certificates to $100,000.
"The longer we put off some of these equipment purchases, part of which is for the safety and welfare for our citizens, the more damage we could cause in the future," said Bevans.
Voting against Bevans' motion were council members Bob Olson and Mary Koep. Both supported the increased equipment purchases but felt they could be financed from sources other than bonding.
Koep suggested the city use money from the sale of the 61 acres of city-owned land by the state hospital. Olson said money from the county's buyout of the city from the Law Enforcement Center could be used.
"When I think we can save taxpayers money, we need to save them money," said Olson. "If we can cut it here and use this reserve it's not hurting us."
Koep offered an amendment to Bevans' motion -- that the equipment purchases be increased by $150,000 using the $270,000 capital projects fund rather than through bonding. The amendment was defeated by a 4-2 vote, with council members Bevans, Anne Nelson Fisher, Gary Scheeler and Council President Jim Dehen voting against.
"We need to look at if that money is not better off in the taxpayer's pocket," said Koep.
Bevans' original motion then was approved.
"I believe I'm going to support this motion at this time. For one thing we aren't selling the bonds at this moment, we're giving tentative approval for some time in the future, not right at this point," said Fisher. "Secondly, I'm hearing we need to improve our reserves, then I'm hearing we need to use reserves. I'm confused about those two comments."
Vogt said the state encourages cities to keep 180 days of operating cash in its reserves and Brainerd has about 70-80 days of operating cash.
Bevans said the city would be better off bonding for the money and investing the capital.
"I'd rather chip in and ensure the purchases rather than speculate on the future of reserves," said Bevans.
Olson said despite having a proposed 2004 tax rate that would be unchanged from 2003, he had concerns about the city still levying the maximum allowed by the state. He said more cuts should be made within the budget.
A motion by Bevans to use $105,000 to get the northeast Brainerd fire station operational wasn't acted upon Tuesday. Instead the motion will be put on Monday's Personnel and Finance Committee agenda.
Council member Lucy Nesheim was absent from Tuesday's meeting.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.