By MAGGIE SCHUETTE-VOSS
The proposed levy for the City of Lester Prairie will drop $31,000 when it is approved tonight (Dec. 8).
Last Monday, the city council had its Truth in Taxation hearing, followed by a special meeting. During the special meeting, the council agreed to cut $10,000 levied for the storm sewer fund and $21,000 levied for the park fund.
In September, the council approved a proposed levy of $234,760; an $18,000 (10.14 percent) increase over last year.
The $18,000 increase was requested by Council Member Kay Jepson, and the funds were to go to the park for major repairs and maintenance needed at the swimming pool that are "long overdue," Jepson said.
Some the items include a new hot water heater at the bath house, and repairs to the bath house roof, the concession stand and the pool.
At the special meeting it was agreed to not levy the $18,000 for repairs, as it was determined the park fund reserves and local government aid from the state would be enough to cover the expenses.
The cutting of the levy was sprung abruptly on the council by Mayor Ed Mlynar. At the close of the hearing, Mlynar announced: "now let's cut $36,000 from the levy."
The cut was not met with open arms by all parties.
"You've been cutting for the last three years," Clerk Marilyn Pawelk said. "I don't think you want to go below the current levy."
The 1995 levy was $254,859. In 1996 it was dropped to $232,850, then to $213,150 last year.
The budget for 1998 will remain at $1,040,548, a 13 percent increase over last year's $914,764. The council said this was possible because of funds placed in reserve.
Pawelk also explained the budget amount required to be disclosed at the hearing only includes expenditures. It does not show any revenues.
"We'll get things like user fees for water and sewer and that doesn't show up here," she said.
Four residents attended the meeting to find out why their property taxes have jumped.
Mlynar told them their statement reflects market value increases of 10 percent that the county was directed by the state to tack on.
Homes in the county were sold at a higher price than their assigned value, he said, and by state law the assessor must increase the market value.
According to numbers Mlynar said he got from the county auditor's office, the market value of property citywide went from $28,380,000 to $31,412,500.
"City taxes would have gone down four percent if all had stayed the same," he said.
The value of commercial property dropped from $965,900 to $944,600. Mlynar said he was going to lobby the county to increase the value of the commercial properties because he did not feel the homeowners should have to pay a greater amount of the city's levy.
It was brought up by two residents that while property taxes keep going up the city is not growing.
"Annexation would increase the tax base," Mlynar said, but added that no one around wants to have their property annexed.
He and council member Galen Hochstein agreed they would like "someone" to begin a housing development that can be annexed. "But I don't think the city should get into the real estate business," Mlynar said.
"You're not growing and you're not cutting. You have to do both," Kyllo said.
Pawelk said there are some fixed costs, such as debt service that cannot be cut.
Council member Larry Peterson said another
budget expense is to overlay all streets except Juniper, Oak,
and Maple next year. This will cost about $60,000 to $75,000.
The last time this was done was 1988.