Stassen and Weasner started at 5%, but council advised them to work with a 3% increase instead

    The Crookston City Council Monday evening was poised to approve a preliminary 2020 City of Crookston budget and property tax levy that includes a 3% levy increase. Previously, City Administrator Shannon Stassen and Finance Director Angel Weasner were crafting a budget with a 5% levy increase in mind, but some council members directed them to make an effort to scale it back to 3%.

    As a result, Weasner tells the Times, in order to balance the budget with a 3% levy increase, $200,000 would need to come out of the City’s reserves. Had a 5% levy increase remained, she said, no money would need to come from reserves.

    Taking $200,000 from reserves brings the balance down to $2.8 million, she said. If the council moves forward on an agreement with developer Bob Herkenhoff to extend a paved Eickhof Boulevard to Fisher Avenue to make way for more residential home lots, another $800,000 would come from reserves in 2020, Weasner said, bringing the balance to the $2 million range.

    Once a preliminary budget and levy are passed, discussions will continue among council members, Stassen, Weasner and department heads as they work toward approving a final budget and levy by the December deadline. Once a preliminary budget and levy are approved, the amount of the levy increase between that point and the December vote can only shrink, it cannot expand.

    Some council members would like to see more trimmed from the budget, not necessarily to further reduce the proposed 2020 levy increase, but to decrease the amount of money that would need to come from reserves. Ward 1 Council Member Jake Fee in a discussion last week said he thinks that $50,000 to $60,000 could be trimmed from the 2020 preliminary budget “pretty quick.” Already, new playground equipment proposed in 2020 for Alexander Park has been deferred, as has a proposed street improvement project next year on Memorial Drive.

    Stassen and Weasner noted that reserve funds have been used frequently in recent years to balance the budget. Stassen said that’s not a wise long-term strategy. “We’re trying to ween ourselves off (using) reserves,” he said. “I hear all over you don’t want to get used to using reserves; you get behind on your levy and then face a double-digit levy increase.”

    Ward 5 Council Member Dale Stainbrook, who favors a 5% levy increase in 2020, at a Ways & Means Committee meeting last week cast the lone vote against a preliminary budget and 3% levy increase for next year.