Waconia citizens offer feedback on proposed budget, levy

A Public Information Meeting regarding the 2014 Budget and Levy was the main event of the Waconia City Council meeting held on Monday, Dec. 2. A half dozen citizens attended the meeting to voice their feedback regarding the budget, which will be finalized by the council during its next meeting on Monday, Dec. 9.
Finance Director Nicole Lueck presented the highlights of the 2014 Budget and Levy during the meeting.
The total final proposed levy is $5,436,821 with a tax rate of 49.444 percent that represents a 0.02 percent increase from 2013 (49.433 percent tax rate). According to city officials, the proposed budget will keep the tax rate relatively flat. It was noted that any change in the city’s share of property taxes is the result of changes in market valuation on the property, a valuation that is determined by the Carver County Assessor, not the city.
As a community, Waconia saw a 7 percent increase in taxable market value compared to 2013.
Reasons for this include increased building activity and improvements in the economy and housing market. As reported by Carver County, the average valued home in Waconia increased in value by approximately 3 to 4 percent and the current average valued home in Waconia is about $220,000.
The city provided several examples of how the proposed levy would affect different properties in the city.
An average value home with a market value of $200,000 in 2013 increased in market value by 3.6 percent to $207,100 in 2014. For this property, the total property tax bill would decrease by 0.6 percent ($2,850 to $2,832) in 2014. On a similar note, a downtown home increased in market value by 0.3 percent, going from $148,600 in 2013 to $149,100 in 2014 with the total property tax decreasing from $1,990 in 2013 to $1,898 in 2014 (a 4.6 percent decrease).
The example provided for a lake home was different, however. A lake home with a $1,027,000 market value in 2013 increased in value by 8.6 percent to $1,115,200 in 2014. The result on the total property tax bill equated to a 5.2 percent increase, from $17,752 in 2013 to $18,680 in 2014.
An example for a downtown commercial property reflected no change in market value ($573,400 for both 2013 and 2014) but still showed a 3.2 percent decrease in the total property tax bill ($22,122 in 2013 to $21,424). The example for a Highway 5 commercial property showed a 6.6 decrease in market value ($310,000 in 2013 to $290,000 in 2014) and a 9 percent decrease in the total tax bill ($11,352 in 2013 to $$10,334 in 2014).
The example for an industrial property featured a 1.1 percent increase in market value. The property’s market value was $1,639,700 in 2013 and now has a value of $1,657,100 in 2014. However, the total tax bill for this property are decreasing by 0.1 percent to $65,800 in 2014 from $65,870 in 2013.
Again, these were merely examples related to the proposed final levy, which has not yet been approved.
And, as noted, any change in the city’s share of property taxes is linked to changes in market valuation on the property. It was mentioned that the time to dispute a property’s market valuation with the county is actually earlier in the year after the final tax bill is mailed in the spring. However, it may not be too late to file a claim in tax court regarding a property’s market valuation for 2014. To learn more, citizens may contact the county’s assessment office by visiting www.co.carver.mn.us or contacting (952) 361-1500.
The city’s total final proposed levy is $30,000 less than the $5,466,821 preliminary levy that was approved in September, which had a tax rate of 49.753 percent (an increase of 0.65 percent over 2013). The $30,000 difference in the preliminary levy is possible due to receipt of final quotes from vendors and contractors and the availability of firmer numbers as the city approaches the year end.
In terms of legislative changes on the city’s 2014 Budget and Levy, the city will receive $76,521 in Local Government Aid (LGA). This marks the first time in many years that the city will receive LGA from the state.
The city will also benefit from a sales tax exemption that starts Jan. 1, 2014. The city will not pay Minnesota sales tax for goods and services (except for purchases made for Safari Island), which will result in an estimated savings of $118,132 for the city in 2014.
Other aspects of the proposed budget as highlighted by Lueck include:
• No proposed increases in licensing, permit or administrative fees or utility trunk charges.
• No increase in water or sewer monthly user fees — but there is a $0.67 increase in the monthly residential storm water fee (due to additional maintenance costs and improvements to the overall system) with commercial customers seeing a 10 percent increase in monthly fees based on impervious surface.
• The monthly residential streetlight fee will increase by $0.06 (mainly due to future capital project needs) with commercial customers seeing a 2 percent increase based on their acreage.
• Safari Island will see a $10 increase in annual membership rates for resident and non-resident memberships and a $5 increase in the 6 month senior membership rate. An increase in the proposed ice rental rates at the ice arena is also proposed, although it would not become effective until the 2014-15 skate season.
• The budget provides for staff pay increases for COLA at 1 percent along with market adjustments by position (if applicable) along with pay step advancements and additional health benefit contribution.
•  Additional wages will be provided for the fire department due to an increase in calls as well as the addition of two firefighters. The fire department will also receive an increase in funds for training as the department has gotten younger in recent years and additional training will assist in the development of the staff.
• Additional funds will be provided for an increase in evening and weekend law enforcement coverage.
• An additional public services maintenance worker will be provided, split between the parks and storm water departments.
• Several fund transfers will increase or decrease with a $10,000 reduction in the General Fund transfer to Safari Island fund being one of the most notable.
• Additional revenue and expense for the building inspection program, due to the increase in permit activity.
During the public comment portion of the Public Information Meeting, several residents offered feedback.
Several citizens were concerned about the market value that had been placed on their property and how that valuation affected their property taxes, especially for lake homes and townhomes.
Another pair of citizens felt the overall tax burden on their commercial/rental property was too high and asked the council members to remember these types of properties when they worked on the budget.
Another citizen talked about how higher taxes are burdensome for many in the community, especially senior citizens, and was concerned that if current trends continue, in perhaps 10 to 15 years Waconia could become an unbalanced community in terms of the number of wealthy residents compared to all others.
As noted, the council will formally approve the 2014 Budget and Levy during its meeting on Dec. 9. Mayor Jim Nash encouraged residents to continue to offer budget feedback to council members before the meeting, if desired. Contact information for the council is available at the city website (www.waconia.org).
In other matters:
• Although the 2014 Infrastructure Project was not approved by the council during its meeting on Nov. 18, the project will be reconsidered following another public hearing that has been set for Monday, Jan. 6, 2014.
State statutes and case law allow the council to reconsider the project if another public hearing is held.
In the meantime, the council has authorized the city engineer to continue to work on plans and specifications for the project. This does not mean the project as been ordered. It simply means that the necessary preliminary work will be completed to keep the project on schedule should it be approved in the future.
• The annual Candy Cane Hunt will be held at City Square Park promptly at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 7. Instructions will be available at the gazebo. Bring a bag to stash whatever treasures your child finds.
• Visit Santa at the Waconia Fire Station from 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 7. Cookies and refreshments will be provided. Canned good donations will be given to the Waconia United Food Shelf.
• The community is invited to the Waconia Public Services Winter Open House, which will be held at the Public Services Facility (310 10th Street E, Waconia) from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Dec. 7.
• A Holiday Skate will be held from noon to 1:30 p.m. at the Waconia Ice Arena on Sunday, Dec. 8. Bring in a new, unwrapped gift or children’s toy for the Waconia Toy Drive and receive a free youth skate admission with every toy donated (four free admissions per family).
• The city offices will be closed on Dec. 24, 25 and 31 and Jan. 1 during the holiday season. After the council meeting on Dec. 9, the next meeting will be held at 6 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 6.

Contact Todd Moen at todd.moen@ecm-inc.com