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Mary Blair-Hoeft of Byron

BYRON — For now, the Byron City Council is looking to add $400,000 to its 2020 budget. How that's spent is still a matter of contention. 

On Tuesday night, the city council approved its preliminary 2020 levy and budget. The levy was set at $4,201,411, which is $400,000 higher than the levy request set during initial budget discussions. City Administrator Mary Blair-Hoeft suggested the council consider the additional money in order to tackle the city's lack of sidewalks. 

"It's the biggest request we get, especially in the spring and when school starts," Blair-Hoeft said. "(Residents) all believe it's the city's job their child gets to school safe. And with the busing being cut back, more children are walking."

By adding $400,000 into the levy to be spent on sidewalks – or other projects as the council sees fit – the preliminary levy is a 15 percent increase over the 2019 levy, Blair-Hoeft said. However, tax-base growth of 9 percent means residents would see a 6 percent increase in their taxes for the city if the final levy in December matches the preliminary one passed Tuesday. 

A plan to add sidewalks along several streets –- either on one side or both –- was presented to the council.

In order of priority, the plan called for four separate sidewalk additions:

• About two blocks of sidewalk on Ninth Avenue Northwest heading north from Fourth Street Northwest for $172,480 (both sides of the street).

• Sidewalks along Ninth Street Northwest from Eighth Avenue Northwest to Fourth Avenue Northeast for $820,050.

• Another long segment on Seventh Street Northwest from Eighth Avenue Northwest to Second Avenue Northwest for $403,480.

• And a stretch from Fourth Street Northwest to the city pool along Byron Avenue for $111,650. 

Those along with a potential bike path or sidewalk on 10th Avenue Northeast and Fourth Street Northeast for just over $136,000 would total a little more than $1.6 million. Blair-Hoeft said that cost will likely increase the longer the issue is kicked down the road because the rising costs of concrete and construction in general. 

Cook said residents will understand an increase in their tax levy if the city is building sidewalks.

"In my opinion, we have not moved forward," said Council Member Steve Cook, who said he walks around town and is often walking on streets. "We have not built sidewalks in town. I don’t want to see all this money going into street improvements."  

The council talked about getting the jobs done within five years. 

"I don't know that it'd be done in five years," Blair-Hoeft said. "That's the first time that's been thrown out there. If it's only one side, it could get done in three years and maybe fund some street repairs."

"I think historically the city has been very fiscally responsible," said Council Member Dan Mesenburg. "I’m in favor of the $400,000. It still puts us on the bottom of the tax rate compared to other cities."  

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