By Starrla Cray
WINSTED The Winsted City Council approved the city’s 2018 preliminary property tax levy Sept. 19, but budget discussions will continue until the final levy is approved in December.
The preliminary levy is $1,278,432, which is 5.32 percent higher than last year.
To arrive at this number, the general levy is increasing by about 10.5 percent, while debt service is decreasing by about 7.6 percent. The lower debt amount is due to a recently retired equipment certificate.
For a homeowner with property valued at $158,456 (the estimated median in Winsted), this levy would mean an added $54 in city taxes for the year.
Local property values have gone up slightly compared to last year, as assessed by McLeod County. For 2017 taxes, the estimated median home value was $157,236. (Compared to 2015 taxes, Winsted’s residential property values have increased significantly. The median that year was $119,916.)
The council is planning special budget meetings this fall to review the preliminary budget before it’s finalized. The council could choose to keep the property tax levy the same or lower it, but the amount cannot be raised.
Some items in the budget might be removed or changed. Body-worn cameras, for instance, are currently included but the council hasn’t yet made a decision to purchase them. Also, a 9-percent cost increase in employee benefits is calculated, but the cost could end up being lower. A single-step salary increase for each employee has been included, as well as a 1 percent increase in the 2018 compensation plan.
In order to have money for streets in future years, the budget includes an increase in the streets capital improvement program (CIP) funding.
The preliminary general fund budget doesn’t currently include approved property tax abatements, Economic Development Authority funding, or any pending fire department strategic operations plan recommendations.
Revenue from the state went up $10,643 for Winsted this year. (The total Local Government Aid (LGA) increase in Minnesota was $15 million.)
The state also granted additional aid for municipal streets, as well as police officer training.
Website developer chosen
The council approved a proposal from GovOffice Web Solutions for website redevelopment at a cost not to exceed $6,384.
GovOffice, a company based in Minneapolis that handles a large number of government websites, had the lowest bid for redevelopment and evaluation, at $5,320. The city added a project contingency of 20 percent ($1,064) to account for any unknown issues. The city also plans to take advantage of a three-year website services agreement, coupled with a financing plan that allows for a one-time website redesign credit.
Six other proposals were received, ranging from $6,000 to $29,700 for redevelopment and evaluation, and $720 to $5,900 for annual maintenance and hosting fees.
Annual maintenance and hosting fees for GovOffice are $1,150. This is about 77 percent less than the city spent on these services in 2016, according to a memo from City Administrator Dan Tienter.
In order to get photos for the new website, the city is considering organizing a photo contest in the future.
Odds and ends
In other business, the council:
• approved a quote from Henning Excavating to repair a storm sewer on Winsted Avenue, for no more than $9,400.
• adopted a resolution authorizing the city to obtain the title to two parcels of land on Baker Avenue. The land was forfeited to the state for non-payment of property taxes. The land has been marked as having blight issues, and the plan is to demolish the building(s) to allow the land to be utilized.
• approved outdoor music in conjunction with an open house event at Dollar General, 200 6th St. S., for 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 14.
• discussed a potential trail connection from the Kingsley Street trail to Mill Reserve Park near Winsted Lake. Council consensus at the work session was to wait to consider trail installation until McLeod Avenue street reconstruction takes place. Council members indicated that, for now, a painted bike path might be the best option.
• discussed data practices for police department body-worn cameras during the work session. Winsted does not currently have these cameras, and no decision has been made if, or when, they will be purchased. Only two cities in the area, Big Lake and Hutchinson, are currently using these cameras. According to the Hutchinson Police Department, which began use in April, only one data practices request has been received to date, and six hours have been spent on it. According to the Big Lake Police Department, which began use about two years ago, citizen requests for data are rare, but the department regularly receives requests from attorneys and other agencies. About four hours per week is spent processing these requests. To date, Big Lake police indicated that they haven’t yet needed to redact any video footage.