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City council sets levy increase goal of 0.9%

WORTHINGTON — The city’s levy may be lower than the pre-certified number.

During initial budget meetings, the Worthington city council approved a not-to-exceed levy of 1.3 percent.

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However, during a special meeting Wednesday, the council set a goal of a .9 percent increase.

The final certification will happen in December.

Getting to that number didn’t come without work and compromise by the council at a meeting that began on Monday and continued two days later.

A total of $25,000 was transferred from the impact funds from the sale of the hospital to put toward a new entrance sign in Worthington. The council last year had allocated the same amount from the budget — pushing the city’s total for signs to $50,000.

“We keep throwing out this $25,000 number, and that’s low,” council member Scott Nelson said. “We have $25,000 already stored up from last year, if we did $25,000 this year, I still think we’re going to be pretty short.”

The motion to use the money was approved on a 4-1 vote, with council member Rod Sankey voting against.

“That’s $75,000 of taxpayer money for a sign that’s going to sit out there in a ditch,” Sankey said. “I think you need to go back to that committee and have them look at something more reasonable. When you come into any city, I don’t know of anybody that sits there and adores the sign that they have.”

“I look at every one of them,” said Mayor Alan Oberloh.

The plan, Nelson said, was to construct three new signs. The Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce would pay for one of the signs, but the second and third could fall on the city.

“With all this construction, we’re going to put up three new signs,” Nelson said. “The chamber is willing to pay for one and the city could pay for two. We put $25,000 into the fund last year, so we need to come up with the rest. I don’t think anybody is purchasing signs with cement pillars for $25,000.”

Oberloh said he was surprised at the high cost, since he had talked with someone who worked at the company which provided the quote.

“That surprises me because (city clerk Janice Oberloh’s) sister’s kid works there and we were talking with him and he said, ‘What?’ He couldn’t believe that,” Oberloh said.

“Are you guys designing something that should be in front of some casino in Las Vegas?

“The price of it, I just can’t believe it.”

Nelson said Susanne Murphy, owner of Worthington Excavating would donate some time and resources for the sign, and Worthington Public Utilities has agreed to participate as well.

“If we can get the utility department to cover the lighting part of it, I think the expensive part is going to be the lighting part of it with solar lighting,” Nelson said.

City Administrator Craig Clark said the group has contacted Fullerton Building Systems in Worthington about the signs.

“We’re still spending $75,000 on them,” Sankey said. “It doesn’t make a difference where the money is coming from.”

“It’s the chamber, it’s their money,” Nelson said.

“Where do they get their money from?” Sankey asked.

“They get it from the private sector,” Nelson responded.

“I think we need to have some more reasonable thinking on this sign deal,” Sankey said.

“Well, we’ve beat it up for a year now, it’s time to make a decision,” Nelson said.

The council delayed the decision to purchase a new fire truck for the Worthington Fire Department on Wednesday.

The WFD was asking for a new pumper.

“The thing that sticks out the most to me is that it is such a limited use within our city,” Oberloh said. “We’re talking once in five years they’ve had to use it.”

Council member Mike Kuhle asked if there could be a joint agreement with the county or townships.

“My point is, can we have a truck paid for by the taxpayers in the city of Worthington that is used on a limited basis, can we subsidize a fire contract outside of our city limits for that cost?” Oberloh asked.

The council approved to transfer an addition al $25,000 from the liquor store into the general fund. The total transfer will be $225,000 annually.

“I think we look at the previous year’s build up. Even if we take 25, are they going to build their reserves by 50 or 100 thousand anyway?” Wood said. “If we took another 25, next year we can see if they built their reserves and where is the current balance. Do we hold it where we were at, do we have to decrease it or can we increase it another 25?”

Health insurance costs went up by 20 percent in the budget to $63,000.

To cover the added expense and to get the levy back to .9 percent, the council took money from street improvements to cover the difference. The department is still going to have increased funding and some of the money will be replaced by state aid.

Director of Engineering Dwayne Haffield said he could get by with the money budgeted, which is approximately $400,000.

More money could be taken if needed to get to the .9 percent levy.

“I’m hoping today we can walk out of here under 1,” Wood said.