By Lorrie Ham
The St. Boni City Council approved a final tax levy for 2014 at its Dec. 4 meeting in the amount of $604,326, the same amount as proposed earlier this fall. The levy represents a 7.7 percent decrease from last year’s levy and the fifth consecutive year of a decrease or zero percent increase in the levy amount.
The council also approved a 2014 budget in the amount of $2,340,235. Highlights of the budget include a $17,872 savings due to the city’s sales tax exemption status, an increase of $46,000 in Local Government Aid (LGA) and decreases in both the fire department contract and the police protection contract.
A lengthy discussion ensued regarding funding for the community center project. A total of $155,000, minus some planning expenses that have already been incurred, has already been earmarked for the project. The project will involve converting the former public works garage adjacent to city hall to a community center.
No additional funds were specifically set aside for the community center project in 2014. The council discussed reallocating $60,000 that was earmarked for Main Street sidewalk improvements to the community center at an earlier budget meeting this fall.
“I thought there was council consensus to move the $60,000 towards the community center,” said Councilmember Joe Arwood. “There was a pretty loud voice in the community that we move forward with the community center.”
Arwood went a step further by suggesting that the city focus on the community center and get it completed in “as timely fashion as we can” and then tackle the sidewalk project in 2015.
Mayor Rick Weible called the downtown sidewalks a “disaster” that create liability and safety issues. The project calls for repair of the sidewalks on both sides of Main Street from Highway 7 to Kennedy Memorial Drive.
Planning Commissioner Mary Bishop said community members are anxious for the community center.
“I hear from members of the community that this project needs to get done and it needs to be done right so that people want to rent it and use it,” said Bishop. “We want something we can be proud of. I don’t thank the $155,000 budget is going to be enough.”
Weible agreed. “But I don’t think that another $60,000 is enough to get it done,” he added.
“In all honesty, I think we will spend another $100,000 on the community center,” said Councilmember Bob Smestad, who favored reallocating the sidewalk repair money to the community center and holding off on the sidewalks until 2015.
While saying that the sidewalks need to be repaired next year, Weible said he would be willing to deficit spend up to $100,000 of the city’s $900,000 total reserves to get the community center project done.
“We can basically borrow from other internal funds to complete this project with the recognition that in 2015 we will replenish those funds with that year’s levy,” said Weible, who went on to explain that deficit spending does not have to increase the levy.
Councilmember Shawn Ruotsinoja asked if the council could reallocate funds between city accounts once the budget has been approved.
“We may want to make those decisions as we get better numbers for both projects,” he said.
Weible said the important thing was the bottom line as the city does have flexibility to move funds throughout the year.
Arwood moved to adopt the budget as presented, with the council’s commitment on deficit spending to finance the completion of the community center in 2014. Weible said he expected the total completed project cost to be in the $280,000 to $290,000 range.
In another matter, the council voted to rescind its withdrawal from the Lake Minnetonka Cable Commission (LMCC) and continue its membership within the Joint Powers Agreement (JPA).
Weible reviewed the changes that have been made and the expected changes that are to come. The LMCC has voted to change the JPA to allow for a two-thirds threshold in voting for changes. After the first two years of the new 10-year contract, member cities will also have an option to withdraw from the group with roughly 15 months notice.
Weible said that the LMCC has shown a willingness to allow for flexibility in its service offerings by adopting an a la carte option for services. Weible also said it was unlikely that the St. Boni could establish contract negotiations and develop production capabilities by the extended deadline of Feb. 28, 2014.
”In the interest of maintaining some of the momentum that has been built and heading in a positive direction, I’ll agree to this,” said Arwood, who admitted he was “cautiously optimistic,” but felt a two year window gave the city time to work on developing its own plan if necessary.
“We’ve learned that all of the cities need to pay closer attention to this,” said Councilmember Terrill Anderson. “It sounds like people are excited to make it a better organization.”
“I’ll stay on for the ride until it starts to come out of taxpayers’ pockets,” added Smestad.
The council also accepted the resignation of Public Works Utility Supervisor Richard Meyer. Weible thanked him for his eight years of service and wished him luck as he moves on to another opportunity.