City council begins 2012 budget discussions
The Austin City Council began its 2012 budget discussions Monday on a possible 15 percent levy increase.
It was a fairly full conference room during the Austin City Council work session Monday. The lengthy discussion of the evening revolved around the 2012 proposed budget and tax levy.
Along with council members, Mayor Tom Stiehm, City Administrator Jim Hurm and Director of Administrative Services Tom Dankert, a few department heads also were on hand to listen and weigh in on the discussion.
In preparation, Dankert and Hurm met with department heads to discuss requests and needs for the 2012 budget. What's resulted is a potential 15.04 percent tax levy increase indicated in the proposed budget.
This percentage is still seeing some "fine-tuning," according to the budget information, and the council has taken no formal action regarding the budget proposal yet.
With the potential tax increase, that would add $529,695 of tax revenue to next year's budget. That's important because the city is losing $1.3 million in state aid, and the city is asking to put $529,695 back onto the local property tax system.
"I think it's a realistic budget," said council member Steve King. "Something's got to give."
One factor to keep in mind is that Austin ranks 223 our of 225 cities with a population greater than 2,500 in net tax levy per capita. That means only two cities based on this criteria have lower taxes per person than Austin, based on 2009 information from the state of Minnesota.
Even in comparison to other cities, council member Judy Enright said, people's perception is still the bottom line of the potential for taxes to increase. Marian Clennon agreed when seeing 15 percent and how it would affect people's pocketbooks.
"When I saw this number, the general public doesn't care that we're the second lowest in the state," Clennon said. "They can't do it."
Council member Jeff Austin said that like the average person, he doesn't "like to have to pay any more in taxes" than he has to, but then with the taxes, you get the benefit of all the services.
"I know it's kind of a bitter pill to swallow," Austin said. "The citizens of Austin have enjoyed many, many years of low taxes."
Members will try to determine how much of an increase can be balanced by cuts.
Both Stiehm and Janet Anderson said they have heard from folks that they'd rather keep the services.
Judy Enright said she might be advocating for more cuts and less of a tax levy.
"There's got to be some ways we can do some things differently," Enright said.
"Maybe when times are tough like this, we have to ask managers tough questions."
Looking for more ways to cut corners might not do enough anymore. Hurm said he believes the city has been doing that and that Austin is "pretty lean."
Dankert agreed. He said cuts are becoming more than just a person's job here or there.
"I think we may be down to cutting program X, program Y," Dankert said.