EYOTA — A promise to start paying its ambulance service professionals is the major driver behind increases in Eyota's 2020 preliminary property tax levy. 

Thursday night, the Eyota City Council approved a preliminary levy of $837,134. That number, said Mayor Tony Nelson, came after a Tuesday budget workshop where the city council cut about $130,000 from the original budget request made by city staff and departments. 

"The ambulance service came to us with a change on how they’ll run it," Nelson said. "There'll be a fee from each entity, and the city’s portion is roughly $63,000."

On Feb. 28, Eyota Ambulance Director Chris Arendt came to the council and explained that the ambulance service, which had been operating without paying any of its volunteers — no salaries, no per-run stipends, no on-call base wage — needed to change with the times and start offering pay. That meant full-time pay for two EMTs and stipends for on-call volunteers during nights and weekends.

Arendt said in order to keep the ambulance service staffed, it needed to start offering pay. At the time, he said he'd be going not only to Eyota but the several townships also served by the ambulance service to ask for funds. 

Eyota's portion would be about $63,000.

That, Nelson said, was the biggest increase in the budget. Without the change to the ambulance service, the increase to the levy would be about 3 percent, roughly the same as the increase in 2019 from the 2018 levy. 

"Without that, we're looking at only a 3 percent increase," Nelson said. "Instead, we're up 10.3 percent. All in all, I still think we’re going to be very fine.”

The levy got a bit of a possible cut Thursday night when financial adviser Mike Bubony explained how the city could save about $8,000 a year on one of its debt service levies by prepaying principal on a 2010 utility bond. By making the prepayment, the city will save $8,000 annually in interest payments.

Bubony also offered some advice on the potential sale of Arbor Gardens. Because the senior living facility's bonds cannot be paid off before February 2021, any sale of the building before then would require setting the payoff aside in an escrow account. 

Bubony also noted that if the sale does not cover all the city's costs of the sale and the bond payoff, the city might consider a tax abatement to make up the difference if it sells the business to a private company rather than a nonprofit. 

"Since you're used to not collecting taxes on the property anyway," he said, "you won't miss it."

Bubony said Chatfield followed a similar plan when it sold a city asset. However, he added, it would be best of the city found a buyer who was willing to pay the full price needed to end the city's obligation should it chose to sell Arbor Gardens. 

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