Council approves slimmed down budget

Minot City Council members trimmed a little more off the city’s proposed 2014 budget Monday before approving a nearly $192 million spending plan.

The council unanimously approved the budget on final reading.

“I really expect that our property taxes are going to go down this year,” council president Jim Hatlelid said after passage. In addition to state tax relief provided through additional school funding and a 12 percent deduction on tax bills, taxpayers will see a levy reduction in city-only taxes from about 84 mills to an estimated 76.76 mills.

The lower mill levy would reduce the city’s share of the property tax on a $200,000 home from $756 to $691 before calculating the state’s 12 percent reduction. However, most homeowners experienced property assessment increases. A $200,000 home last year that went up an average 11 percent in assessment this year would be taxed for 2014 at $767 before the 12 percent reduction.

The budget includes a total dollar levy of $14.5 million after property-tax relief from the city sales tax is included. In 2013, the city dollar levy after property-tax relief from sales tax was $12.4 million. In 2012, the city levied $9.4 million, and in 2011, prior to the city including deductions for property-tax relief, the levy was $12.7 million.

The council cut about $1.6 million from the originally proposed dollar levy following a public hearing last week.

At Hatlelid’s recommendation Monday, the council made additional cuts of $344,700. Some of the larger reductions included elimination or postponement of spending on a plow truck for a fire station, city clerk office software, a street tilt trailer, police department supplies, street path maintenance, aerial photography for engineering, traffic signal interconnections and a street payloader. The increase in levy for the emergency fund also was scaled back.

The council rejected a proposed budget change from the police department that would have had little effect on overall spending. The department requested that the council eliminate a patrol car purchase and $30,000 in vehicle supplies to shift money to a new position for a senior administrative assistant.

Council member Scott Knudsvig noted that the council would be eliminating one-time expenses to add an expense that will continue into future years.

Mayor Curt Zimbelman broke the council’s 7-7 tie when he voted against the request.

“I would think whatever is essential should have been in the original budget,” Zimbelman said in explaining his vote.

The 2014 budget includes an increase in water and sewer rates. An average residential user using 1,200 cubic feet of water would see a rate increase from about $88.82 to $94.31 a month.

In other business Monday, the council approved additional spending to spur construction on two downtown parking structures. The projects had been held up because bids came in higher than available funding.

The council agreed to contribute $750,000 in sales-tax dollars set aside for home acquisitions in the flood zone but never spent. Asked about the potential for the city to come up short of money for future acquisitions due to the change, finance director Cindy Hemphill responded that the city has been using its Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery dollars and state money to fund buyouts.

To complete the parking structure funding, an additional $750,000 will come from an increase in ground lease payments by Cypress Development from $100,000 a year to $125,000 a year.

The council voted 13-1 to make the funding changes for the parking structures, with Knudsvig casting the only opposing vote.