Maplewood final levy goes up 10.2 percent

Before the final 2007 Maplewood city budget was approved Dec. 11, the City Council and residents who attended the second truth-in-axation hearing were presented a revised tax-levy increase proposal of 11.4 percent by City Manager Greg Copeland. That figure is the levy as it was proposed in the beginning of the budget process in September.

Just a week prior at the Dec. 4 meeting, Copeland had projected an 8.7 city-levy increase which included eliminating five administrative positions including the parks and recreation director, human resources director, assistant city manager, deputy police chief and deputy fire chief.

Further fine-tuning at the Dec. 11 meeting brought the final levy increase to 10.2 percent.

Adding in, taking away

The main reason for a change in the levy from one meeting to the second was the addition of two patrol officers to be hired for the Maplewood Police Department by June, Copeland said.

That will bring the total number of new patrol officers to four, with two also being hired in the city through $80,000 in grants from the Metro Gang Strike Force and East Metro Narcotics Task Force.

"The council clearly indicated that there was still an interest in seeing more police hired in Maplewood. We feel very good about that in the sense that the public safety line item gets quite a bit of increase here," Copeland said.

Overall, Copeland said the Police Department budget increased by $513,230 from 2006. Eliminating the deputy police chief position held by John Banick added his salary and benefits, totalling $154,926, back to the department's budget.

Copeland's original tax-levy recommendation also included undertaking over $561,000 in deferred maintenance projects, a majority at the Maplewood Community Center.

The council cut three of those deferred maintenance projects including repairs to the basketball court floor, at $116,860, $40,000 for exterior metal painting and a security system upgrade priced at $8,600.

A cost of $200,000 for a pool area dehumidification/heating unit that the city was going to borrow, thus it would not impact property taxes immediately, was also taken out of the planned deferred maintenance projects.

Council Member Rebecca Cave said during the meeting that all the deferred maintenance dollars should not be spent at the Community Center. Rather, the money would be better spent on patrol officers for the Police Department.

These cuts brought the final levy increase to 10.2 percent.

With the 10.2 percent tax-levy increase approved by the City Council, an average valued home of $220,100 would pay $743 in city property taxes, a 6.4 percent increase from last year, Copeland said.

"The other important thing to recognize (is that) the tax rate will be slightly less than the 2006 tax rate," he said.

Three new managers added

Cave made a motion to approve the 10.2 percent tax levy increase, which was seconded by Mayor Diana Longrie and approved 3-2. The final levy dollar amount is about $15.5 million, Copeland said.

Before approving the city's final budget, which in turn would approve Copeland's proposed job cuts, some council members attempted to put a hold on the decision and allow more time to discuss the changes.

The proposed budget expenditures for 2007 were $37,383,020, according to Interim Finance Director Gayle Bauman.

City Attorney Alan Kantrud said the budget needed to be approved by the end of the year regardless if the city had another meeting or workshop for discussion.

In addition to the staff reorganization in the form of the administrative job cuts, the final budget approval by the City Council also authorized the city manager to proceed with plans to create three management groups, public safety, citizen services and finance and administration.

Each group will have a manager which would be a new hire to the city or possibly someone from within the current staff if they choose to apply.

Public safety will include the Police Department, Fire Department, emergency medical services and the emergency management program. Citizen services will encompass public records, elections, deputy registrar motor vehicle services, passports, community center and the Parks and Recreation Department.

Finally, the finance and administration management group will cover the Public Works Department, Information and Technology, Planning and Building Operations and Finance departments.

When hearing about the proposed changes, Council Member Will Rossbach said, "There is no way that these people can manage such diverse departments."

Despite some council members' continued concern about the staff reorganization they would authorize by approving the 2007 budget, Council Member Cave proceeded to make a motion to approve the budget, which was seconded by the mayor and passed by a 3-2 vote with Council Members Rossbach and Kathy Juenemann voting "no."

"In many ways I feel that what ended up happening (Dec. 11) was kind of the final step in the majority and our city manager really taking final and full control of the city," Rossbach said after the meeting.

"They've poisoned the water now. They've done everything they can to work against what I believed is true and what I believe my moral values are. I certainly have no trust, whatsoever, in anything that they say or do," he said.

Katy Zillmer can be reached at kzillmer@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7822.

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