Council will discuss the 2018 preliminary budget one last time on Sept. 5

    Although there is more discussion to come before the Crookston City Council votes on Sept. 11 to establish a preliminary budget for 2018, all three budget scenarios presented by Finance Director Angel Weasner and City Administrator Shannon Stassen to the council’s Ways & Means Committee Monday night include a 10 percent property tax levy increase in 2018.

    Mayor Wayne Melbye suggested that the council digest the latest budget information and meet one more time before the Sept. 11 council meeting to ask any final questions or voice any additional concerns. That meeting will take place on Tuesday, Sept. 5. Once the preliminary budget is approved in September, the tax levy increase can be reduced before the final 2018 budget is approved in December, Stassen said, but the levy cannot be increased further during that time.

    Stassen, Weasner and a couple council members on Monday said it’s important that local property owners not assume that just because a 10 percent tax levy increase is being proposed, their tax levy is actually going up 10 percent. Tax capacity changes and an increased tax base all impact the City share of the levy, Weasner said, which looks like in 2018 will result in an actual increase in the City share of the tax levy of approximately 6.6 percent on a $150,000 home, or around $60.

    “People will think their taxes are going up 10 percent because the levy is going up 10 percent, but that’s not true,” Ward 2 Council Member Steve Erickson said.

    “It’s a very important distinction (to make),” Stassen added.

    The proposed 10 percent levy increase next year comes on the heels of earlier budget-related updates that tentatively included a 15 percent levy increase in 2018. The thinking at the time was that the 20-year Special Service District “flood fund” was expiring and that a levy increase of that size would bring in about the same amount of revenue, just under $300,000, to the City’s general fund, as opposed to flood fund revenue that went into the SSD fund each year. It was suggested during those previous discussions that property owners were likely accustomed after two decades to paying into the SSD each year, and that they might not be too concerned about paying more in the form of a tax levy increase to boost the City’s general fund.
    
Latest changes, other budgetary items of note

    Recent debates as the 2018 budget has taken shape have resulted in subsequent changes on the expense side, Weasner noted.

    • For one, $100,000 that was previously included in the Parks & Recreation budget for trails on the wet side of the levee in Sampson’s Addition – an investment that spurred citizen opposition – has been removed from the budget. Even if the money isn’t invested next year on trails, Ward 5 Council Member Dale Stainbrook said he felt the money should stay in the budget because, he continued, it would look better for the City to have the money earmarked for trails in its budget as it pursues various grant and other funding opportunities to continue to grow the local trail system.

    Stassen said he understood Stainbrook’s point, but added that if the City in the coming months needs to identify funding in the budget to enhance a trails grant opportunity, the money is available. “We took (the $100,000) out, which helps our budget immediately, but if we need to go and find that money later, there are ways to access it,” Stassen explained.

    • After complaints led by At Large Council Member Bobby Baird and echoed by other council members like fellow At Large Council Member Bob Quanrud, the Parks & Rec budget now includes money to repaint, re-side and otherwise touch up various sheds and other out-building that Baird and others recently said are in bad shape.

    Those complaints also extended in no uncertain terms to the condition of the City shop, so Public Works Director Pat Kelly has been putting some numbers together to spruce that building up, and Stassen said it’s possible that the money will come out of this year’s budget and will be completed this year before the weather turns cold.

    Quanrud was pleased to hear that the facilities were going to be fixed up.

    “We keep telling people to keep their properties up, and ours look like crap,” he said.

    • Mayor Wayne Melbye has led recent discussions about adding a greater surveillance camera presence to downtown and various other locations in the community, and with the damage inflicted over the weekend to the new pickleball courts in Schuster Park, the mayor suggested that maybe those efforts intensify. Ward 1 Council Member Jake Fee said he agreed, and that the City needs cameras in its parks. If cameras were in the parks and directed at things like the restroom/shower facility in Central Park and other “public” facilities, they might be able to be kept open and more accessible to the public, Melbye added. “We maybe wouldn’t worry so much about these places, because if people see they’re on camera, it changes a lot of people’s minds,” he said. “If you’ve got cameras, it’s a different ballgame.”

    City IT Director Philip Barton said he understood the concerns, but added that a lack of wifi in places like City parks presents a logistical and performance challenge. And, he explained, if, for example, a camera system that costs $1,000 a year is aimed at a City “asset,” then it order to make it financially feasible, the cameras would need to prevent at least $1,000 a year in damages to that asset. “This would be a new, ongoing bill to the City,” Barton said. “If (cameras) would allow us to open up a facility more, then yes, but just to watch the pickleball courts, I wouldn’t recommend that.” He added that it takes more than one camera to sufficiently surveil a given location.

    It just doesn’t make financial sense, Barton continued, especially when the City’s insurance policy that includes a $1,000 deductible for each claim.

    Melbye said he understood the concerns, but added that he’s not looking to fill the community with cameras right away. Instead, he said, as the City expands its wifi capabilities, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to add some cameras “piece by piece” over the years to keep an eye on City property.

    Developer Jeff Evers added that he has added several cameras to keep an eye on several of his downtown properties, and he’s planning to add several more. He said when need be, he’s shared footage with Crookston Police during crime investigations. CPD Chief Paul Biermaier stressed that the CPD and Evers have no official working relationship when it comes to surveillance footage.

    “We’re not collaborating officially, he’s just helped us on occasion, just like we’d go to Holiday, Ampride or someone else (for access to their camera footage),” Biermaier said. “We’re not loading downtown with cameras so we can see what everyone’s doing.”

    • The budget as of now, again, based on previous discussions, includes $180,000 for a dehumidification unit in Crookston Sports Center’s Event Arena. Weasner said most of the money would come from funds remaining in the CSC’s construction budget. The Blue Arena, which hosts warm-weather, off-season hockey tournaments, a few years ago had a dehumidification unit added to reduce condensation, but concern about rust in the CSC has spurred talk of adding a similar unit to the main Event Arena.

    Stainbrook said he’s not in favor of it. He said the rust issues arose after off-season tournaments were held in the Event Arena one year, and he doesn’t think the Event Arena, at least currently, holds enough off-season events to warrant the expense of dehumidification.

    “I want to see payback,” Stainbrook said. “I think that’s a chunk of change and we ain’t getting our bang for the buck right off the bat.”

    “Well, we have a $15 million building there, and I’d like to see it protected,” Quanrud said.