Tax levy for 2013 set to rise in Norwood Young America

At left, Mayor Tina Diedrick presents JR Hoernemann with a token of appreciation for his service to the city during his last meeting as a council member on Dec. 10.

Property taxes will rise for Norwood Young America residents next year after the NYA City Council approved a final budget and levy during its meeting on Monday, Dec. 10.

The council approved a property tax levy increase of 8.46 percent, from $1,359,386 to $1,474,492, after some discussion about what cuts have been taken to help soften the impact on taxpayers, and noting that the council went through seven budget workshops to reach the final numbers.

Some of those cuts to the budget included eliminating the contracted economic development coordinator from the 2013 budget, ending contracted mowing of the city cemeteries (mowing will now be done by city staff), and reducing the number of mosquito sprayings that will be done next summer.

In addition, city employees will be shouldering a larger share of the cost for health benefits, some employees will be taking voluntary unpaid leave to help save on expenses, and contributions to the city’s capital improvement fund were minimal.

“We’re at [an 8.46 percent increase], but we don’t know how to cut it any more. We’ve cut it to the bone,” said City Administrator Tom Simmons.

Council members expressed some concern over the budget during the meeting. All acknowledged that the 8.46 percent raise in taxes was difficult, but Councilor Dick Stolz said he was concerned that even with that raise, the city might not be doing enough to cover its costs. Stolz said he was worried about the impact of the 2013 budget on 2014, saying that even without any additional spending taxes will already have to go up again next year to keep up with debt.

Keeping the tax increase down at 8 percent for 2013, he said, would only mean a more painful increase for 2014. Instead, he proposed that the council approve the preliminary increase scheduled in September.

A complicating factor is that an error in the amount of taxes collected number sent to the county has changed the numbers since the preliminary budget’s approval in September. While the preliminary budget showed an 8.2 percent increase, the effective increase of that number due to the error was actually a 16.87 percent increase. The final levy increase approved, while higher than the number published in September, is only about half of what that preliminary increase actually was.

Simmons noted that because of that error, which was made last fall, the city has actually collected approximately 22 percent less in property taxes from the 2010 budget to the 2012 budget, and the three-year average in taxes collected from 2011 to 2013 is still an average decrease of 4.5 percent per year.

Simmons added that the overall decrease in the city’s tax base due to lower property valuations has caused challenges in taxing, in addition to the switch of the Homestead Credit/Homestead Exclusion.

Despite Stolz’s objection, the remainder of the council felt that the 8.46 percent increase was sufficient for the time being.

“This is what had to happen. This isn’t an appealing budget for anybody,” said Councilor Carol Lagergren.

After discussion, the council approved the levy increase at 8.46 percent for 2013 on a 4-1 vote, with Stolz voting against the measure.

Of the taxes collected in 2013, a total of $637,798 will be used for bonded debt payments and $836,694 will go toward the general operating fund.

Total revenues and expenditures in the 2013 budget are also up, from $2,099,946 in 2012 to $2,143,931 next year.

In other business, the council:
• Approved an agreement with the City of Watertown for wastewater and water treatment services, provided by a licensed Watertown employee. The cities have already been cooperating through an informal agreement, but made the arrangement official with the approval.

Under the agreement, Norwood Young America is paying $50 per hour to have the Watertown employee on site for the required minimum of four hours per week. There is also a $30 trip charge. Simmons noted that the total cost for a year is a little over $14,000.

“This is the best option right now to get us by,” he said.

• Heard a report from the town deputy, who noted that crime is generally up for the year to date in comparison with 2011.

The number of individuals arrested in town through November has actually declined to 41 this year compared to 58 last year, but the inclusion of other categories changes the bottom line.

Part I crimes (including assault, burglaries, thefts etc.) stand at 62 total for the year, compared to 54 through the same period of time last year.  In November, three burglaries were reported in Norwood Young America.

Part II crimes (including court order violations, alcohol related traffic incidents, court order violations etc.) are well above 2011 levels, with 146 Part II crimes reported this year compared to 111 last year.

Total criminal activity stands at 208 incidents this year compared to 165 last year.

Deputy James Fogarty said that it was not uncommon for crimes such as thefts and burglaries to increase during bad economic times.

In addition to the crime report, Fogarty also discussed several speed studies that are under way around town, and may present a more detailed summary of the results next month.

• Thanked Councilor JR Hoernemann for his years of service to the city council. Hoernemann will leave the council at the end of the year to make room for Mike McPadden.

• Approved employee handbook changes reflecting a change from sick and vacation time to paid time off, which will result in cost savings down the road. Other changes also relate to the cost sharing of health benefits to allow cost savings to the city.

• Approved a rezoning ordinance to accommodate the homes on Oak Lane that will be annexed into the city on Jan. 1, 2013. The action changes the zoning for that area from Transition/Agriculture to Low Density Single Family Residential.

• Approved an ordinance accepting contributions from residents, organizations and businesses to be used by the city to benefit its citizens. To date in 2012, about $43,464 had been received by the city for that purpose.

• Approved a payment of $8,084.91 to Wm. Mueller & Sons, Inc. for work done on the Faxon Road improvement project.

• Approved an addition to the feasibility study for the potential year one mill and overlay project to include a portion of Main Street E.

• Approved a lawful gambling exempt permit for the Knights of Columbus for bingo events on Jan. 6, Feb. 3 and March 3.