Council continues levy budget talks

WORTHINGTON -- The Worthington City Council met Wednesday morning for a second special workshop to discuss the 2016 tax levy budget. City Administrator Steve Robinson said at last week's meeting the the levy was at $3,616,870, a 10.87 percent inc...

WORTHINGTON - The Worthington City Council met Wednesday morning for a second special workshop to discuss the 2016 tax levy budget.

City Administrator Steve Robinson said at last week’s meeting the the levy was at $3,616,870, a 10.87 percent increase from last year’s budget. With cuts that he and Brian Kolander, the city’s director of finance, proposed to the council, the levy would decrease to $3,483,970. This would still be a 6.79 percent increase from last year.
Cuts suggested were:

  • Reduce the Clean Water Partnership budget from $100,000 to $50,000.
  • Eliminate a proposed Grand Avenue project, saving the city $125,900.
  • Reduce health insurance by decreasing the increase from 10 percent to 7 percent.

The council will vote to pre-certify the levy budget at the Sept. 14 regular council meeting. Once the number is established, the budget can be made smaller but will not be able to increase. “As we meet in October and November, too, we will be leaning in on some of these issues,” Kolander said. “We will revisit and have some better numbers on health insurance and things like that.”
The final budget will be voted upon in December.
“This precertification isn’t committing to the budget,” Robinson said. “You are only committing that you won’t exceed that number.”
Budgets up for discussion were public works, the airport, parks and recreation, Prairie View, Memorial Auditorium and the levy payment to the Worthington Regional Economic Development Corp. (WREDC).
Department heads met with the council to present their budget and answer questions.
Park supervisor Scott Rosenberg said his budget had no big changes from previous years.
A $4,000 increase was shown in the repair and maintenance budget line for equipment needed to fix anything in the parks.

“Things like ground mulch, park benches and trash cans,” Rosenberg said. “... We need to start addressing some of those issues with the deteriorating amenities we have, whether it is painting or replacement.”
Kevin Black, the golf course superintendent at Prairie View, said he budgeted for 2016 as though Prairie View will continue to run as an 18-hole golf course.
Robinson explained that because Prairie View’s fate is still up in the air, the golf course has been budgeted the same way it has been in the past.
“We are budgeting for full expenses for 2016 regardless of what direction council goes with the golf course,” Robinson said. “Any major construction probably could not take place in 2016. ... There may be an opportunity there that the course could be open under a different operation for next year, so we still need to do all the fall and winter maintenance on the course.”
Robinson continued by saying that if the city chooses to close the golf course, decommissioning it will be a significant project.
Todd Wietzema, the interim public works director, said there was a slight increase in needed funds for the signs and signals budget to help pay for employee time.
“I’m finding that we spent more time painting crosswalks, especially for the bike trails,” Wietzema said. “... (We spent) more time out replacing signs and things that were in need of repair.”
At last week’s meeting, the WREDC budget was set at $83,000.
Abraham Algadi, the director of WREDC, asked the council to budget an additional $3,000 for a total of $86,000.
“Last year, the $83,000 was about 32 percent of our budget,” Algadi said. “It is worth noting that the city is the largest single contributor to our revenue.”
Algadi said if the WREDC budget is not raised, it will be about $7,000 short this year.
No action was taken on whether the council will approve the additional $3,000.
Tammy Makram, the managing director at the Memorial Auditorium, said the auditorium’s budget for 2016 is looking similar to last year’s, but some planning will need to be done for future building improvements.
“The seats are old, and there were a lot of seats that weren’t working anymore… so we had the help of some city employees that came down and went through each and every seat,” Makram said. “Eventually ... they are going to need to be replaced.”
The roof and ceiling will also need to be updated or fixed, Makram said.
Mayor Mike Kuhle urged the council to plan to budget those items in the future.
“We stuck this money into it,” Kuhle said. “We need to keep the improvements going, otherwise that money went down the drain.”
City staff and council will continue to recommend cuts that can be made to the budget through December, when the final levy budget will be decided.

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