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City begins evaluating 2020 budget needs

Worthington City Hall

WORTHINGTON — As the city of Worthington anticipates budget needs in 2020, the city council heard initial proposals from department heads and voted to allow a tax levy increase of not more than 17.5%.

In public safety, Police Chief Troy Appel explained some needs he foresees the police force having throughout the coming year.

For the last two census periods, Worthington's population has grown by about 13%. If that trend continues for the 2020 census — which is a conservative estimate, Appel noted — then that will bring the police force to about one officer for every 601 people. Ideally the ratio would be more like 1 to 500 or fewer, he said, adding that he anticipates needing to increase the number of officers as the city's population grows.

Additionally, the cost of supplies is rising. Also, with older officers looking at retirement, younger officers need more training, which costs money.

The Kevlar vests worn by police officers have expiration dates, Appel explained. The current vests expire in 2020 and will need to be replaced.

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Public works also has additional expenses going forward, Public Works Director Todd Wietzema said.

This year's record snowfall put a significant strain on the public works budget, he said. Snow and ice removal supplies need to be replenished.

Also, there have been citizen requests for clearer signage regarding parking downtown. Two-hour parking is only enforced between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m., Wietzema said, but the signs need clarification.

With the opening of the new splash pad, the city incurs more water and chemical costs. Revenue is down from Olson Park Campground because people haven't been camping as much. Wind storms have required trees to be removed, which need to be replanted.

In engineering, city engineer Dwayne Haffield told the council that the department's software subscriptions are growing more expensive. A few projects are coming through the pipeline, such as the Olson Park Trail Rehabilitation, that don't qualify for state funding and must be paid for by the city.

Community development, as explained by Assistant City Administrator Jason Brisson, needs new computers. The city has also taken on slightly higher personnel costs by replacing four previous positions with five new ones in an effort to better distribute the city hall work load.

Knowing that additional expenses are coming, the council felt that increasing the total tax levy by 17.5% (or less) is reasonable. City Administrator Steve Robinson explained that the public has been asking for amenities and that the city is providing them — but they aren't free.

He also added that Worthington has a total tax rate second-lowest in comparison with 18 other Minnesota cities of a similar size. The total tax rate is made up of the city tax rate — which is ranked 16 out of 19 against those same cities — county tax rate and school tax rate. The city has no control over the county and school metrics.

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At this point, 17.5% is just an estimate. The city must turn in a pre-certification to the state by Sept. 9.

For the remainder of the year, estimates will become finalized, but the total may not exceed 17.5%. Staff noted that even if the full 17.5% increase is needed, total taxes may not necessarily increase. For example, last year the levy was increased by 7.99%, but taxes went down.

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