Proposed city budget includes tax increase

Minot’s property taxes would go up about 14 percent under a $155.5 million budget being proposed for the city in 2015.

The increase comes despite a spending reduction of about 17 percent because a greater share of the cost burden would fall on property taxes. A key factor is that the 2014 budget included nearly $40 million in federal Community Development Block Grant funds, while the 2015 budget includes just $13.5 million.

For the owner of a $200,000 home, the city’s share of the property tax would be about $780, compared to $684 in 2014. About $85 of that levy would go to fund 44 new, full-time staff positions.

The positions include 12 firefighters to staff a new station being built at 55th Crossing in southeast Minot next year. Acting city manager Cindy Hemphill said the firefighters will be hired in April so they can be trained before the station opens in about November.

The new positions also include two information technology specialists. Hemphill said the department has a ratio of 116 employees per IT staff, which is very high. With the airport expanding and a new fire station, the demand for IT services is only going to grow, she added.

The police department is requesting four police officers, of which one would be funded by a federal grant. It also seeks an administrative specialist and a municipal court clerk.

The street department has need of four light equipment operators and two heavy equipment operators, while two buildings and grounds workers are needed in property maintenance. Hemphill said the demand is greater for maintenance workers because the city is buying 113 more homes in the flood protection buyout zone, which will bring the number of city-owned properties requiring mowing to nearly 500.

Other positions recommended in the budget are a financial specialist and CDBG invoice clerk in the finance department, a commercial plan reviewer and a permit technician in building inspections, a zoning enforcement officer in the planning department, a facility foreman and services coordinator at the airport, a senior engineering technician in the public works department, a light equipment operator at the landfill, a utility worker to take calls for sewer and water locates, a technician at the auditorium, three full-time bus drivers and a full-time bus service specialist.

Hemphill said the city has only part-time bus drivers and would have an easier time hiring for full-time positions with benefits. A part-time legal secretary position also would move to full-time.

Any additional staff would come at a time when the city has already out-grown its space in City Hall and other buildings. Hemphill said she will recommend the council consider forming a building committee in the coming year to look at future space needs.

The budget includes a number of capital improvements. Among the largest expenses are the downtown infrastructure improvements, a northside sewer project, the water treatment plant hazard mitigation project, four paving districts, completion of a new airport terminal and overlays on all roads that were in the flood inundation area.

In addition, the city hopes to move forward with its flood control project, Hemphill said. The project remains in the design phase. No construction is likely for at least another year and half, she said. However, the hazard mitigation work around the water treatment plant in 2015 will provide protection to that area and will eventually tie into the flood protection project.

Hemphill said one of the next steps for the flood protection project is arranging for the permitting needed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The proposed budget includes rate increases at the cemetery to help the operation break even and for sewer usage to cover rising costs. Water and garbage rates would remain the same.

For an average residential user using 1,200 cubic feet of water, the total bill would increase from $94.31 in 2014 to $101.57 in 2015 due to the increase in the sewer flat rate and storm sewer maintenance fee.

On a more positive note, the city’s emergency fund appears to be back in the black and requiring less cash infusion in 2015.

“We had been in the hole for the past several years,” Hemphill said. “We will actually, hopefully, end up with a $1 million balance. That’s our goal.”

A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for Sept. 8.