WSP, Mendota Heights finalize 2014 levies

The snow is crisp and the calendar is winding down, signaling that special time has come once again: cities are finalizing budgets and levies for the upcoming year.

While this seasonal tradition doesn’t come with hot chocolate and candy canes, mild improvements in the economy and favorable changes in state law have perhaps imbued the budgeting process with a bit more cheer than in recent years.

West St. Paul

The West St. Paul City Council approved a final property tax levy of $10.7 million in its Dec. 16 meeting, which marks an increase of around 3.5 percent over the 2013 levy. The levy will support a total city budget of $14.8 million for 2014, which includes additional revenue from fees, licenses and intergovernmental transfers.

The final budget is slightly less than the preliminary budget maximum the council approved in September. Most notably, the final levy is a $45,000 decrease from the preliminary amount approved by the council. Most of the increases from the 2013 budget have to do with personnel, including internal promotions, the addition of a communications/social media position and added code enforcement. In total, the changes come to about $456,000.

City Manager Matt Fulton told the council at the Dec. 16 meeting he believed the levy and budget represented an incremental step forward after holding steady through the recession. In particular, Fulton emphasized the city’s decision to reserve funding assistance from the state for capital projects and improvements, rather than relying on the funds (known as Local Government Aid) to cover operational expenses.

“The budget isn’t an extraordinary budget by any means, but it does start to try to position ourselves as a first-tier suburban community in the metro area,” Fulton said.

Council member David Wright also praised the final product, saying he believed the decision to allocate LGA to capital projects was the right one for the long term health of the city.

“This was a hard-fought budget this year and I appreciate staff’s commitment to putting together something that was very workable,” Wright said. “I always understand the citizen’s concerns about the tax levy and things of that nature, but we have a lot to do in this city, and I think our ability to move some LGA into some capital projects is imperative.”

Mendota Heights

The Mendota Heights City Council approved a final levy of $6.7 million — a 2.9 percent increase — in its Dec. 17 council meeting, along with a total budget of $11.6 million for 2014. The city’s general fund budget, which covers the majority of operational costs at city hall, will increase 2 percent, from $5.9 million this year to $6.1 million next year.

Chief among the increased expenses in the 2014 budget in the police department, which will receive a 4.5 percent budget increase in 2014, from $2.9 million to $3.1 million.

While few residents get excited about levy increases, the 2014 budget process also revealed information more likely to inspire holiday cheer: the average home value in Mendota Heights increased by nearly 4 percent, while the city’s net tax capacity grew 3.3 percent.

This means a home with Mendota Height’s median value of $290,700 in 2013 will increase to $301,750 in 2014. The city portion of property taxes for such a home would increase by $46, from $1,049 in 2013 to $1,095 in 2014.

The final budgets of both cities will now be submitted to Dakota County for final approval by the end of the month.


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