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Citizens for Accountable Government, CAG, Steering Committees response to the proposed 2015 budget and 10% tax levy, presented by Alexandra Matyja

I have been asked by the Steering Committee for CAG, Citizens for Accountable Government, to respond to the proposed 2015 budget and tax levy.

First, I’d like to thank the Council for exercising restraint and not supporting the tax increases that were requested by City Management for the past couple of years. If my memory serves me right, the City Manager initially requested a 16 % levy increase for the 2013 budget.

And although the Council subsequently voted for no increase, the City still ended up with a budget surplus. Again, if my memory serves me right, I believe you also voted for no levy increase for this year’s budget. So again, I thank you. And I’m sure that the taxpayers thank you, too.

We are now facing a proposed 10 % tax levy increase for next year. During the recent election campaign, Councilor McGuire seemed to express regret that the Council did not support a levy increase this year.

Councilor McGuire, you stated that your number 1 priority is to increase the General Fund reserve, and you want to do that by increasing the tax levy. Isn’t that going in the wrong direction?

A recent letter to the Editor in Prior Lake American reminded us that the City maintains almost $20 million in various funds, of which only 6 or 7 million is restricted in term of use. Seems to me that ought to be way more than adequate to cover unexpected events.

I’ve heard it suggested that we need these kinds of reserves to cover, for example, a recurrence of flooding. But from what I understand, City costs associated with the flood this summer were less than $150,000. God forbid, should it happen again, but I don’t think it would break the bank. And I know of no recorded instances where the City had to rely on reserves for its daily operation.

Please try to remember that increasing the tax levy is not the only way to protect or increase City reserves. I shouldn’t have to remind you that spending reduction is not a novel idea. And it definitely is a great alternative that makes a lot of sense, especially in this harsh economy.

Again, Councilor McGuire, you seem to indicate by your public comments in defense of a tax levy increase, that services would have to be cut if the levy doesn’t go up. Closing the library and senior centers were possibilities offered by the City Manager.

But have you considered cutting expenditures that have nothing to do with serving residents? I’ve heard many people express disappointment with the way our tax dollars are being spent. I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but let me bring up a few examples:

Just recently, another $25,000 to a consultant to study downtown parking. This is the third study in about 10 years.Over $110,000 in out of pocket costs for welcome to downtown signs with continuing cost for programming and maintenance..

$115,000 for a dilapidated house on Colorado Street that sold for $40,000 just 3 years ago.

Dozens and dozens of pretty street lights costing up to $8,000 each.

Almost $70,00 for a new boat (and I haven’t even been offered a ride)

Tens of thousands of dollars to consultants to design roads that no one seems to want or need. I’m speaking about Rolling Oaks Circle and Stemmer Ridge.

About $100,000 to consultants to study realignment of CR 21, a meaningless project that would have cost taxpayers over $20 million.

Another $80,000 for consultants to study a fiber optic ring around Prior Lake that would have cost millions more.
Of course there’s more, but you get the point. None of these expenditures serve the needs of our residents or our neighborhoods. It’s time for City Management to address how to cut costs without cutting services. Justifying spending increases, and closing the library, certainly are not viable options.

I’ve learned that Scott County has capped the tax levy increase at 1.9 %, and it might be reduced further prior to adoption. Our school district has capped the tax levy increase at 1.25 %, with expectations that it will likely be reduced to zero. Perhaps our city management should learn something from these authorities and follow their examples?

Even Minneapolis is sensitive to the economic climate we face. They have limited their levy increase to 2.2 %. And I’m sure you all would agree that Minneapolis is not a fiscally conservative City Government. So why, I ask you, here in Prior Lake do we need a 10 % increase?

I’d like to remind you again that when the City Manager asked for a 16 % tax increase for last year, you voted no. And we ended up with a year end surplus, and no cuts in services. That was a good decision, and I ask that you make a good decision again.