City looking at 4% levy increase for 2021
Pre-certification scheduled for Sept. 14 council meeting
WORTHINGTON — At a special budget meeting Tuesday, the Worthington City Council asked staff to begin planning for a 4% increase in the city's tax levy for 2021.
Before making a decision, council members heard from department heads about their budget needs in the coming year.
Police Chief Troy Appel explained that the WPD is seeing some changes in personnel, with some officers being promoted and new officers hired to get to the 24-person police force considered standard for the city. Police must have 48 hours of continuing education every three years, and the department is planning for some changes in that regard. New state law requires officers to take courses on subjects including autism awareness, diversity training and conflict resolution, and due to COVID-19, many of the training options are being moved online.
The police force also needs to replace two of its marked squad cars next year, which is a significant budget expense.
Public Works Director Todd Wietzema told the council that personnel services have gone up with increases in wages and insurance coverage for public works employees. The splash pad has proven to be more expensive than originally thought, due to wind blowing the water out of the splash pad area, so a slight budget increase is needed to cover that.
Wietzema noted that his department needs to replace a pickup truck, but after it's ordered in January, it will be 16 months out. Payment is collected upon delivery — so the truck will not actually be purchased until 2022 — but if the city starts budgeting for it this year, then the money will already be raised by that time.
The department hopes to save some money by decommissioning the Public Works facility on First Avenue Southwest. Additionally, the Olson Park campground is moving to an online reservation system, so the city will no longer need to pay an employee to answer the phone and record reservation times.
Assistant City Administrator/Economic Development Director Jason Brisson said that with the hiring of Jeremiah Cromie as city planner, the general fund will require a little more in the budget for full-time work. He then focused the remainder of his time on presenting a new way to budget.
"I'd like to shift the conversation from what we're buying to what we're doing," he said.
While line-item budgeting is helpful and important, having a visual of how the city and each department spends its money can also be a good tool when considering the annual budget, Brisson said. He introduced the council to the idea of program budgeting, which breaks down in a pie chart how money is being allocated.
"This is a way of disrupting the status quo if the status quo's not working," he said.
For example, in his department, Brisson showed that last year, less than 1% of the budget was spent on economic development, and none on community development. Department heads and council members can consider where they would like those percentages to be, and then make a line-item budget that reflects those priorities.
"I don't want to compare with other cities — I want to be a leader in southwest Minnesota, and I think this is a step in that direction," Brisson added.
Council members were open to the idea, but wanted to see more. Council member Amy Ernst suggested that it would be helpful to see a program budget not just for Brisson's department, but for each city department and for the city budget in aggregate.
When it came time for a vote, the council was unanimously in support of raising the tax levy by 4% (about $194,324), but that vote does not constitute formal approval. Council members will officially vote to pre-certify the tax levy at the Sep. 14 council meeting.