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John Nephew

Maplewood City Council Policy & Politics


Final Levy Set

I didn't get a chance to write about it yet, but at our special budget meeting on December 6th the Maplewood City Council approved the final levy and budget for 2011.

Mayor Rossbach and I voted to reduce the levy increase by $122,000, because in our view we had included this money in the preliminary levy specifically for some unknowns in employee costs, particularly in terms of cost-of-living increases and health insurance expenses.  When we set the preliminary levy in September, we didn't know what the final numbers would be, or even if the employee contracts would be finalized by the time the final levy was set.  (Happily, they were.)  However, our motion failed on a 3-2 vote.  The argument on the other side was that there is still a long list of unknowns and potential expenses, and if we don't have adequate reserves in our fund balance we could face serious mid-year budget cuts and a need for a bigger increase in the 2012 levy.

My first choice was to leave that money in taxpayer pockets, but after my motion to amend the levy amount failed I did still vote for the final levy with its 5% increase (Rossbach was the only vote against).  I do see the value in replenishing our reserves, which have been depleted in the past several years as we've seen declining revenues; and the money is standing by for unexpected needs, not being allocated to any ongoing increase in operating expenses.

As has been explained time and again, the levy increase isn't funding an expansion of city government.  On the contrary, we have reduced the number of city employees, negotiated zero percent COLAs for staff salaries in 2011 (as well as 0% salary increases for the council, mayor, and city manager), etc.  But we have lost other revenue sources -- not only the oft-discussed Market Value Homestead Credit, but things like interest income.  The city gets two big lumps of revenue each year, from the semi-annual property tax payments, and it used to be that the interest on that money, as it sat waiting to be paid out for city operating costs, added up to hundreds of thousands of dollars each year -- dollars that then did not need to be raised via property tax.  But not in today's interest rate environment.

For more on the budget and levy meeting, check out the article in last week's Maplewood Review.

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