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Rochester 2022 budget plan holds steady as one council member cites 'wasteful spending'

City council is expected to vote on $494.4 million spending plan during Dec. 6 meeting, following a public hearing.

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Rochester’s proposed 2022 city budget is unlikely to face many changes before its adoption early next month.

“I’ve gotten to the point that I’m comfortable with where the recommended budget is right now,” Rochester City Council member Patrick Keane said during Monday’s budget review.

RELATED: Rochester sets cap for 2022 property taxes

At least one council member wants cuts in the $494.4 million spending plan, but specifics weren’t provided during a review Monday afternoon.

“I do believe we can find places to cut wasteful spending,” council member Molly Dennis said, citing concerns about a proposed 6.5% increase to the city’s property tax levy. “It’s not necessarily the council’s job to go line item (to propose cuts). We have expert staff in every department that can say, ‘Well, we can shave off a little here or a little there’ to keep property affordable for people, because there is an incredible amount of wasteful spending here and there.”

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City Administrator Alison Zelms said city staff already cut spending and to keep the levy as low as possible.

“We did really consider the impact on the taxpayer with this budget,” she said, noting the city is using $1.5 million in federal funds to reduce the reliance on property taxes.

She said the budget also maintains $3.3 million in spending cuts made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Any additional cuts to the overall property taxes collected would reduce funding for city programs that don’t have alternate revenue sources, she said.

“The library, recreational services and public safety are primarily supported by the property taxes,” she said. “Those are things we hear are very important to people.”

Zelms said past suggestions to cut spending on Destination Medical Center projects wouldn’t affect the city’s property tax collection.

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“There is no property tax levy that is going to the DMC capital projects, so if we were to adjust those, it would have no impact on the tax levy,” she said.

The city administrator did note the DMC projects play a role by attracting new development, which increases the value of downtown properties, offsetting the taxes elsewhere in the city.

The tax increase, she said, is the increase to the total tax collected, so the 6.5% increase isn’t necessarily the rate individual property tax owners will see on their bills.

Council member Shaun Palmer said the typical homeowner will see a $25 increase if their property value remains steady.

Dennis, however,said property values are on the rise for affordable homes, which will increase the potential tax bills.

“This is going to be more than that,” she said of Palmer’s estimate.

City Council President Brooke Carlson said it creates a challenge for a growing community with increased expenses as it seeks to maintain expected services.

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“To me, it’s a balancing act,” she said.

The council will be asked to make a final decision on the budget during its Dec. 6 meeting, following a public hearing on the spending plan and proposed tax levy.

Randy Petersen joined the Post Bulletin in 2014 and became the local government reporter in 2017. An Elkton native, he's worked for a variety of Midwest papers as reporter, photographer and editor since graduating from Winona State University in 1996. Readers can reach Randy at 507-285-7709 or rpetersen@postbulletin.com.
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