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Council: No number just yet

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News Worthington, 56187
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Worthington Minnesota 300 11th Street / P.O. Box 639 56187

WORTHINGTON -- There are too many unanswered questions to set the city's not-to-exceed levy limit just yet, the Worthington City Council decided in the final minutes of its fourth budget meeting Thursday.

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Council will meet in special session at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday to finalize budget numbers and agree on a maximum percentage by which they can increase the property tax levy -- known as a not-to-exceed levy limit. That percentage will be precertified at council's regular meeting Sept. 13; another round of cutting and shifting to determine the actual levy percentage increase will follow in council and staff discussions throughout the fall.

The certified tax levy for 2010 represented a 2.9 percent increase over the previous year.

"I'd like to commend everyone who's come in here with their budgets right on track, nothing outrageous," Alderman Ron Wood said in Wednesday's meeting. Council members have spent the past two weeks hearing from department heads regarding significant changes to each department's budget.

Among those major items:

- Building projects: new fire station funded through $4.1 million in hospital sale proceeds; six-unit T-Hangar for Worthington Municipal Airport; Senior Center (now in the works).

- Savings: $24,000 by not replacing retired public works employee; $190,000 through implementation of street lighting utility; regular economic development funding offset by $300,000 transfer from hospital sale proceeds to Worthington Rediscovered program; may hold off on replacement of 24th police officer.

- Expenses: $30,000 more requested for snow and ice removal; cost of spring clean-up increase as well as a need for an improved user accountability system.

"I do think that program gets used and abused at your expense," Alderman Mike Woll told Public Works Director Jim Laffrenzen. General fund operating costs have increased 3.22 percent, according to preliminary budget figures.

- Unknowns: Can each department's equipment replacement fund be reduced? Will council choose to pull from hospital sale proceeds to avoid large tax increases? Will the city get $3.03 million in certified Local Government Aid for 2011?

City Administrator Craig Clark has included items in the budget that could serve as "shock absorbers" if planned revenues fall through.

"It allows us to plan ahead by relying on some reserves. Otherwise, we're planning for things that could not be necessary," he said.

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