Also, they agree to move their Ways & Means Committee meetings to council chambers to be more inviting to the public.
The Crookston City Council Ways & Means Committee squeezed in a quick vote to get the levy down to 5 percent Tuesday evening during a special meeting. City Administrator Shannon Stassen told the council that if they hadn’t met before next Monday’s regular meeting they would have been obligated to go with the 8 percent levy that had been discussed previously. The public levy and taxation hearing is scheduled for Dec. 11 prior to the council meeting, and the final budget and levy numbers need to be firmly established prior to that hearing.
Reached by the Times Wednesday for clarification, City Finance Director Angel Weasner said the council wanted the budget figures detailed at the Dec. 11 public hearing to reflect a 5 percent levy increase in 2018. So, had the council not acted prior to that hearing, the information disseminated to the public on Dec. 11 would have had to reflect an 8 percent levy increase, which was approved in September by the council as part of the 2018 preliminary budget.
During the discussion, Mayor Wayne Melbye said worked closely with City Finance Director Angel Weasner and Crookston Housing & Economic Development Authority Executive Director Craig Hoiseth to see what could be cut or done differently to appease some of the council members’ concerns over a levy increase in the 8 percent range. Melbye mentioned that travel expenses for the council and himself, and money allocated to the former Downtown Crookston Development Partnership’s facilitator, which came from the council’s Economic Development Fund, would relieve around $46,000 from the budget.
Ward 2 Council Member Steve Erickson brought up the fact that the general public might not get the “gist” of what’s happening with the budget and levy, and Ward 6 Council Member Tom Vedbraaten added that Polk County’s recent raise in valuations meant that most people won’t see a drop in taxes anyway.
“From 2013 to now, taxes are going down (for the City) and there is a positive story to tell,” said Stassen.
When looking at the reserves, Ward 1 Council Member Jake Fee said that he had concerns about rolling over $3 million again even after they cut the economic development portion for the DCDP facilitator, but, to that, Weasner explained that they still have to move money over for the fire truck fund and other things that get accounted for at the end of the year. Weasner added that they have also increased their franchise fees by $40,000.
Fee also wondered if they were “handcuffing” themselves by taking the economic development money out of the budget, but Melbye said they can give funds to CHEDA and it can go through “him.”
“If the downtown development projects are ongoing through 2019, we can also budget for it at that time,” added Weasner.
At Large Council Member Bobby Baird asked Weasner what the state allows for the amount of money in reserves, and both she and Stassen said, where they’re at now, they’re over by $500,000. But, some departments are “in the hole” such as street improvement and the airport.
“We are taking that money and borrowing it for the shortfalls,” Weasner noted.
Fee told the council that they should consider having their Ways & Means Committee meetings downstairs at city hall in the council chambers instead of upstairs in the conference room for a number of reasons, including safety and space. He says that he has heard from the public that the meetings upstairs are “not very inviting” and it’s hard to tell if they’re even open to the public. Fee added that he would also like to see it broadcast on local channel 3 to “be more transparent.”
Ward 4 Council Member Dennis Regan recalled previous discussions about a potential meeting location move and mentioned that Crookston Police Chief Paul Biermaier and CPD Lieutenant Darrin Selzler told them it would be safer downstairs after the June 2016 active shooter training session held at city hall.
Stassen said they would most likely need two projectors downstairs so everyone could see when presentations are made and Fee added that they should consider new chairs if they will be down there for particularly lengthy meetings. After discussing where the funds would come from for the new equipment, Fee said he can live with a 5 percent levy increase as long as they find the funds in 2017 for chairs and projectors, and they move their meetings downstairs.
Erickson subsequently motioned to accept the 5 percent levy increase as long as they could do it “comfortably, without bankrupting ourselves” and Vedbraaten seconded the motion. The council approved it unanimously and Melbye thanked them for all their work.
“It’s never going to get easy,” the mayor added.