WORTHINGTON — As city staff members work to finalize the 2020 tax levy, the Worthington City Council heard from department heads Tuesday afternoon about projected needs in the coming year.
The Worthington Liquor Store's current location is still new, and needs are fluctuating. However, looking at expeditures and profits over the last two years, "We can demonstrate that it's paying its way back," council member Alan Oberloh noted. The building cost about $4.6 million to construct.
One additional cost to be expected next year is a raise in wage by a dollar an hour for the part-time employees — a necessary move in order to compete with KwikTrip for talent, said manager Dan Wycoff.
One somewhat unpredictable budget element is employee health care, council member Chad Cummings said. Employees have a choice of plans, and if an individual gets married and changes to a family plan in the middle of a year, it drives costs way up.
Director of Engineering Dwayne Haffield explained that there's a likely need to raise electricity rates for street lights in 2020. The city is beginning to save money already as a result of switching the street lights to LED bulbs.
There are a few places where additional lighting could be added in the future. If next week's referendum passes, for example, street lights will need to be added on Crailsheim Drive between Minnesota West housing and Olson Park, said Oberloh and council member Amy Ernst.
Storm water improvements needed include flood mitigation. Haffield said there are a few more places in town that need repair, but the funding isn't available. He is applying for DNR bonding, which then must be approved by FEMA. He estimated about a year until completion.
Cummings noted that council members brag about how cheap it is tax-wise to live in Worthington, yet there are storm and sewer projects left undone so taxes can stay low.
"Ultimately, it's us, sitting here, who make these decisions," he said.
He also pointed out that utility rates are routinely low compared with other cities nearby and of a similar size.
"That's awesome — maybe. Is it awesome?" he asked. He advised the rest of the council that in order to have functional storm drains and nice amenities, the city and its residents will have to pay a price.
Director of Public Works Todd Wietzema interjected that his department spends a lot of time on maintenance because some of the infrastructure is aging and needs replacement. Cummings said that means additional labor from another department is paying for items that are falling behind in the interest of low taxes.
For example, Haffield said, there are a number of improvements that need to happen along Winifred Street, but they haven't been done yet due to lack of funds. These repairs have been put off for four or five years already, and they grow about 3% more expensive each year.
Given these concerns, Cummings asked that rather than approving the next phase of the tax levy, council members meet again Nov. 12 to revisit budget priorities. The council agreed to do so.