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Austin to levy 7 percent more in 2008

By Tim Ruzek

Post-Bulletin, Austin MN

State aid to relieve part of the local property tax burden in Austin and other non-metro Minnesota cities has continued to climb since 2005.

And Austin city leaders appreciate the help.

"Without Local Government Aid, we would be in a world of hurt," Finance Director Tom Dankert said Tuesday at the city’s annual truth-in-taxation hearing.

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Austin expects to receive about $7.6 million from the state in 2008, which is more than $300,000 more than the city received for this year. Local Government Aid, which had decreased in 2003 and 2004, will provide about 54 percent of the operational budgeted revenue in the city’s annual general fund, compared to about 65 percent in 2002.

Austin City Council members unanimously voted at the end of Tuesday’s hearing to recommend approval of the proposed 2008 budget and tax levy at their Dec. 17 meeting. The council only can decrease the levy amount it set in September.

The city plans to levy $3,460,000 from local property owners in 2008. That’s about $227,500, or 7 percent, more than the amount levied for 2007, with 3 to 4 percent of the increase expected to be covered by new commercial and residential properties paying taxes for the first time.

Dankert said the higher levy for 2008 stems from cost-of-living increases and a new full-time position that’s proposed for parks maintenance.

Austin and other cities that get the state aid likely won’t experience a change in their Local Government Aid amounts, Dankert said, in light of the state’s recent budget adjustment that predicted a $373 million state shortfall by mid-2009 if tax and spending patterns stay the same.

Other than media, one citizen, Wade Novak, of Austin, attended Tuesday’s hearing. Novak told the council his main concern was that he thinks the county assessors placed too high of a market value on his home.

City officials suggested Novak talk with the county assessor’s office about the appraisal to see if a mistake had occurred. They added that in the spring Novak and others can contest the market values placed on their property by addressing the board that reviews those appraisals; this could possibly change their market values for taxes payable in 2009.

City officials touted themselves as having a strong financial history and plan that includes balancing budgets, maintaining adequate reserves that earn the city a good credit rating, adopting a five-year capital improvement plan annually and making decisions that have long-term financial effects.

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Numbers

$28,605,905 proposed for the city of Austin’s overall budget amount for 2008.

$7,620,975 certified amount of local-government aid in 2008 for Austin from the state.

$3,460,000 proposed to be levied from property taxes in 2008 by the city.

What’s next: The Austin City Council expects to vote on its 2008 budget and tax levy at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 17 in the council chambers.

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