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Council sets pre-certification levy at a 7.99 percent increase

WORTHINGTON — The city of Worthington’s preliminary tax levy for 2019 has been set at just under $4.3 million, representing a 7.99 percent increase over the 2018 levy.

The Worthington City Council came to the number — which can be reduced but not increased before the final budget is passed later this year — during a special meeting Tuesday morning.

The 2019 levy is not affected by some projects that are likely to be bonded for, such as an estimated $2.42 million proposal to renovate the former MC Fitness building. If the city decides to construct a building to house a privately operated movie theater, it would not impact the levy until 2020 at the earliest.

Some of the costliest projects, as always, are street repairs. Proposed repairs that identify more than 20 sections of road account for $690,110 in general tax financing. Several streets in the Homewood Hills neighborhood are on the docket for repair in 2019.

Although council members agreed Homewood Hills needs repairs, they laid out other sections they want to see fixed that didn’t make the preliminary budget. Councilman Alan Oberloh said Knollwood Street needs to be reconstructed, while councilwoman Amy Ernst noted the extremely rough ride on Clary Street between Diagonal Road and McMillan Street.

Councilman Larry Janssen said he has heard complaints about downtown Worthington, as curbs and parts of the streets are crumbling.

City Engineer Dwayne Haffield agreed on the need to repair parts of the downtown area, but noted that fixing underlying issues would necessitate large-scale fixes that would likely require costly special assessments to the nearby property owners.

In other large new expenditures, the public works department is budgeting $70,000 for two new pickup trucks and $136,000 for two new all-purpose mowers, along with $96,666 to replace the Centennial Park playground equipment and another $100,000 for a new bathroom to be located at either Slater Park or Ludlow Park. Councilman Chad Cummings suggested Slater Park as the best location, as it hosts both summer and winter activities.

The budget also adds approximately $63,000 for an additional employee in the city’s community development department, in part to facilitate the construction of $20 million in potential half-percent sales tax projects.

City Administrator Steve Robinson said the position would only be created if the city’s replacement local option sales tax is approved by local voters this November and by the Minnesota legislature in 2019.

Council members said the new position would also handle some economic development duties. To pay for the position, the city would reduce its funding to the Worthington Regional Economic Development Corp. (WREDC) by 25 percent. It is anticipated that Worthington Public Utilities and Nobles County would do the same to contribute toward the new position.