MANKATO — The city’s first figure for a 2013 levy increase is 2.6 percent, but this number only tells part of the story.
It is complicated by the city’s decision, earlier this year, to transfer $574,000 in library spending to Blue Earth County. That move immediately cut the equivalent of a 4 percent levy increase from the budget.
But that spending didn’t entirely disappear from the city’s budget.
In its place is a $250,000 figure, which is included in the 2.6 percent increase projection. It’s called a “place holder” because that figure is somewhat arbitrary — it could be higher or lower when the budget is finished.
It is labeled for “recreational and cultural” facilities, such as a children’s museum, but could also be used for extra police officers or grants to area libraries. Or it could disappear entirely, reducing the levy increase.
There was debate Tuesday evening during a work session on whether that $250,000 should make it in the final budget.
Mayor Eric Anderson and Councilman Mark Frost wanted it out of the budget; Councilwoman Karen Foreman and Council President Mike Laven wanted it in. The other three council members were absent.
Frost said he hears too many taxpayers complain about tax increases to justify this one.
“There isn’t a bottomless bucket of money, anymore. Period,” he said.
“I am interested in not doing this as long as we don’t have anything specific,” he said.
Foreman said she wants to keep it in to help area nonprofits build improvements like a children’s museum, VINE’s senior center and more hockey rinks.
Laven supported it, but he said he wouldn’t complain if it didn’t make it in.
“I would’ve been comfortable with $250,000 even if we were still doing the library. That discussion can and should occur,” he said.
Another possible use for the money is four new employees — a public works staffer, a police officer and two community service officers — that would cost about $272,000 a year. The current budget includes no new hires, though it has a 2 percent raise for all employees and a 3 percent increase in health insurance costs.
While it can be confusing to look at could-have-been scenarios, it is also worth noting what the city’s levy increase would look like if it hadn’t done the library switch. That figure — including the “extra” $250,000 — is about 6.6 percent.
There is one other large tax shift worth noting.
The 2013 budget includes a shift of $500,000 from property tax money used for street lighting — equivalent to a 3.5 percent levy increase — into a new fee. It is seen as a more fair way to tax for street lighting because a fee, unlike property taxes, can be levied on universities and hospitals, which benefit from the lights.
The council is slated to set a preliminary levy, which can be lowered but not raised, during its Monday meeting.