North St. Paul sets tentative budget, property-tax levy for 2017

The average North St. Paul home would see a property-tax increase of about $7 a month in 2017 under the preliminary tax levy approved by the city council Sept. 20.

The council members passed a draft general fund budget for next year on the same night. 

The preliminary tax levy represents the maximum amount that the North St. Paul council can set during its truth-in-taxation public hearing Dec. 6 at City Hall. Mayor Mike Kuehn explained Sept. 20 that the final levy amount can be reduced, but it cannot be increased after the preliminary levy is set.

The preliminary budget and tax levy need to be certified to Ramsey County before the end of September. 

The draft general budget increased 3.45 percent over 2016. Due to this and other factors, the preliminary property-tax levy increased by 9.7 percent over last year, but the city also had an increase in taxing capacity due to rising home values, so the average North St. Paul homeowner with a property assessed at $168,000 would only see an increase of about $7 a month for the city portion of their property taxes for 2017.

The 2017 draft general fund budget expenses are projected to be $7,147,656, which includes $238,504 of new spending or a 3.45 percent increase over 2016.

According to City Manager Jason Ziemer, this is largely because of a 5 percent increase in the personnel budget. He explained that personnel costs represent about 65 percent of the total budget, which, he added, “is common for most organizations.” 

There are no new full-time positions included in the budget, but there is one proposed part-time position for a horticulturist and one new, half-time internship. The increase in the personnel budget is primarily due to an increased cost of living adjustment of about 2.5 percent, according to Ziemer.

Other budget areas that have seen an increase over last year include supplies, contract services, capital and transfers. 

Ziemer said in an effort to keep the budget “palatable” for taxpayers, one usual budget item that was not included this year was $55,000 set aside for long-term facility needs, such as new roofing or HVAC needs that may arise.

The preliminary 2017 city property-tax levy is $3,026,658, which is $267,702 more than this year. This change represents an 9.7 percent increase. However, North St. Paul saw a $488,000 increase in taxing capacity, which Ziemer explained could have been caused by several things including the work homeowners have done to increase the value of their properties.

“The city did see a significant increase in its overall taxing capacity, and that’s the number that ultimately determines how much people ultimately pay in property taxes,” Ziemer said.

The median North St. Paul property value in 2015 was $157,500, while the median value in 2016 grew to $168,000. 

This year residents with homes valued at $157,500 paid $520.36 for the city’s portion of their property taxes or about $43 a month. 

If their property appreciated in value to $168,000 during this year, the city portion of their taxes will jump $86 or about $7 more per month in 2017. 

However, if their property did not increase in assessed value in 2016, they would pay about $38 more on the city portion of their annual taxes.

“This just gives you an idea that some of that increase that that property is paying is a result of the increased value. It’s not necessarily derived 100 percent because of any decisions that the council’s made as it relates to the budget or the tax levy as a result,” Ziemer said.

The council voted 4-1 to accept the draft budget and preliminary levy; council member Jan Walczak cast the dissenting vote. 

 

HRA and EDA levies

The preliminary Housing and Redevelopment Authority and the preliminary Economic Development Authority levies were set at the Sept. 6 city council meeting. The deadline for certifying the 2017 HRA and the 2017 EDA levies was Sept. 15.

All present city council members voted to set the preliminary HRA levy at the staff proposed, statutory maximum amount of $143,812. Council member Candy Petersen was absent.

“You can always reduce that, but you can’t increase that going forward,” Ziemer explained.

According to Ziemer, the HRA funds are intended to be used for housing specific purposes such as the student-build houses, the aging-in-place program, the home improvement revolving loan programs, the emergency repair program, the safe haven program proposed by the fire department and other staff time and overhead expenses tied to the housing development goals. 

The preliminary EDA levy was also set as staff recommended at the maximum allowed by state statute, $140,935. 

Ziemer explained that the EDA funds are for expenses tied to economic development or business-related purposes such as the implementation of the “wayfinding” signage plan, project consulting assistants and staff time on issues related to business retention, recruitment and attraction.

Walczak pointed out during the meeting that the proposed levy was for significantly more money than the EDA budget, which was only about $107,000. 

“Historically, the EDA levy has been set at the maximum just because they don’t have a lot of money to work with to allow them to do some of the different things that they are looking to do long term,” Ziemer replied.

He explained that the extra funds would be to pursue unforeseen opportunities as they arise. He said that in the past there have been projects like the restoration of a historic building that came up unexpectedly, and because of the limited funding, there was no money available to pursue those projects.

Walczak said that it would be better to know ahead of time specifically what each project is, so the budget could be tighter and the levy could be lower.

“There are specifics, but they come along over the course of the year a lot of times,” Kuehn stated. Both Kuehn and Ziemer also mentioned it would be good for the EDA to have some joint meetings with the city council, so that the needs of the EDA could be better explained.

Three council members approved the staff-recommended $140,935 levy, with Walczak voting against it.

 

Aundrea Kinney can be reached at 651-748-7822 or akinney@lillienews.com.

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