During the recent meeting, the Big Lake City council set the preliminary tax levy for the city. Deb Wegeleben, city finance director, noted at the beginning of her presentation that the preliminary levy is set at the maximum allowable. The final budget workshop does not take place until December, and before that time budget meetings will take place to whittle down the number.
According to the preliminary levy, the budget over 2022 will increase by 4.77%. Despite this rise, the tax rate is decreasing by 8.77%. This is due to the rise in home values. The county auditor found that home values have increased over 20%.
Council Member Ken Halverson raised concerns over the increase in budget. He noted the city had accumulated what he called a “surplus,” which was extra funds that would be set aside for future infrastructure expenses (such as road projects). Some of the council members hoped to accumulate a nest egg so the next road project could be paid in cash instead of taking on more debt for the city and paying interest. Halverson argued that people were struggling with the economy now and therefore taxes shouldn’t be raised.
Wegeleben noted that the so-called “surplus” was not due to being taxed extra last year, but rather an accumulation of fees from things like building permits from 2009 to now that were not expected.
Mayor Paul Knier countered Halverson’s concerns, saying that there was no guarantee of local government aid to the city. This funding is usually fairly reliable, but the city did not receive it in 2010, and so it is possible that the funding will be denied again. He also noted that in the housing crash of 2008 and 2009, the city was only able to collect about 70% of property taxes, and so even though the levy is set to a certain amount there is no guarantee the full amount will be paid.
“Just as a family does have a rainy day, emergency fund, so does the city,” said Knier. He went on to argue that suddenly running out of money and being unable to pay for staff, BLPD, and BLFD. He said the increase would amount to approximately $1.30 per person over last year.
A Big Lake resident petitioned the council to annex his 2.3 acres of property from the township into the city. The parcel currently contains a residential home, but the owner hopes to redevelop the parcel for commercial use.
The council voted to approve the annexation. Public hearings to rezone the parcel will take place at a later date.
City Engineer Layne Otteson reported on the activity for the engineering department for the last two months. The 2021 streets project is almost complete. The 2022 streets project is still underway, having been slowed down by hail damage repair as the replacement of a gas line.
The fire department has been successfully re-roofed.
Allie Cross gave her first presentation as the new student liaison. There will be upcoming elections for positions on the school board. The school district has implemented fingerprinting technology for the lunch lines. Students were given the option to opt out and continue to use a code if desired. New roofing has been installed on buildings around the schools.
Hanna Klimmek, city administrator, noted that the process to regulate the sale of THC is still being investigated. The city is keeping an eye on the actions of the state and county as other municipalities also work toward the same goal. The Big Lake Chamber of Commerce will be holding candidate forums at the Big Lake High School on Monday, September 26, 6 p.m. (for school, township, and city races) and Monday, October 10, 6 p.m. (for the county and state candidates.) Absentee voting is now open, as of Friday, September 23.
Former Acting Chief Sam Olson welcomed Chief John Kaczmarek to the city. Kaczmarek spoke to say he was so excited to be a part of the department and the city. After one week on the job, he felt that everyone had been very welcoming.
Kaczmarek’s swearing-in ceremony will take place at the next regular meeting.
Halverson congratulated Sam Olson on doing a good job of leading the department in absence of an official chief, and said he knew Kaczmarek and Olson would make a good team in leading the department.