It took several tries Monday, but Brainerd's 2010 tax levy has been set.
The Brainerd City Council set the levy at $4,111,308, a $150,000 decrease from the preliminary levy set in September.
Voting for the tax levy were council members Anne Nelson Fisher, Lucy Nesheim, Bonnie Cumberland and Kevin Goedker. Voting against were council members Kelly Bevans, Mary Koep and Bob Olson.
The preliminary levy included a $300,000 increase recommended by staff to pay off debt on bonds for the Brainerd Oaks and Riverside Drive projects.
Olson had offered a motion to reduce the levy by $300,000 and instead use $150,000 in water accessibility charge funds and cut employee hours by one hour a week for a $121,000 savings to pay off the debt on bonds.
However, Olson withdrew his motion when City Attorney Tom Fitzpatrick informed the council the city could be challenged for reducing hours already set in union contracts.
A second motion by Olson to decrease the levy by $300,000 and using water accessibility charge funds, $60,000 in surplus and $10,000 to pay toward the bonds, was defeated by a 4-3 vote, with Bevans, Nesheim, Fisher and Cumberland against.
"I just feel that things aren't going to get any better for the state, aren't going to get any better for the city and I feel it's imperative we bite the bullet," Olson said.
Bevans said Olson's motion didn't go far enough. Nesheim said staff presented a balanced budget and there were too many unknowns for the council to cut the levy.
"This was the first time in 20 years people have called me and said they would be willing to pay more," Nesheim said.
Koep said the balanced budget was coming at the expense of people who were cutting back themselves.
A third motion, to decrease the levy by $100,000, was defeated by a 4-3 vote, with Bevans, Olson, Koep and Goedker against.
With no one coming in with a new motion, Finance Director Theresa Goble said the council could lower the levy by $150,000, the amount suggested by Olson to use from the water accessibility charge fund.
The council also approved a 2010 budget of $13,367,523 in revenues and $12,938,568 in expenses by a 4-3 vote, with Olson, Koep and Goedker against. The budget included about $21,000 for the Coalition for Greater Minnesota Cities, to which Olson and Koep objected. The 2009 budget had revenues of $13,533,425 and expenses of $12,924,349.
The council on Monday also unanimously approved the Brainerd Public Utilities 2010 capital improvement and operating budgets.
The utility and total operating revenue for 2010 is expected to increase 0.9 percent over 2009, from $20,110,879 to $20,299,000.
Operating expenses for 2010 are expected to increase 4.5 percent, from $18,896,365 to $19,754,000. The cost of purchasing electricity from Minnesota Power is expected to increase 9.1 percent, or $1,029,000 more than in 2009.
Total capital improvement projects are proposed to be about $16 million, of which $12 million is related to the construction of the wastewater treatment plant upgrade.
MATT ERICKSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5857.
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