Fairmont weighs 3% tax hike

FAIRMONT – Fairmont City Council has proposed a 3 percent property tax increase for the coming year. It would bring in an additional $96,429.

The total property tax income for the city would increase to $3.31 million.

The council will approve a final budget and levy in December, at which time the proposed property tax can be decreased but not increased.

Property taxes represent about 28 percent of the city’s general fund revenue.

City administrator Mike Humpal noted the proposed increase is just enough to offset higher costs of operations, such as fuel and utility costs. He noted the city is still keeping its budget trim.

“We’ve been able to put into the budget a lot of the things you wanted,” he told the council. “But we struggle to do more with less.”

Humpal said state aid to the city is going up $18,000 in 2014, but that is a small amount considering what the city lost in state aid cuts in the past several years.

The Legislature did help the city’s budget by exempting sales tax on purchases, a move Humpal says will create savings of between $50,000 and $65,000 per year.

The city is also looking to save money by not replacing retiring staff and looking closely at travel expenditures.

Humpal said the city is not replacing a retiring police officer this year, and is analyzing the need to replace about seven more employees who could retire over the next few years.

City finance director Paul Hoye pointed out several large expenditure increases expected in 2014:

o A general election. The city has increased the city clerk’s budget by almost $13,000.

o An increase in the fire department’s budget will be used to maintain aging trucks and equipment, as well as set some money aside for eventual replacement.

o A $195,000 increase in the capital fund of the city parks department will be used for equipment at Ward Park, finishing the Winnebago Ball Diamonds, and equipment to maintain all the parks, such as a lawn mower, groundskeeping machine and loader.

There are also plans to use $350,000 to straighten out the lake channel under Woodland Avenue.

“A lot of the capital expenditures are part of a five-year plan,” Humpal noted. “It is not coming all at once. We have money set aside.”

The tax impact of a 3 percent levy increase isn’t certain. Although the amount would technically mean $729 per year on a $150,000 home, market values fluctuate.

Council members encouraged the public to engage them in conversation about the budget.

“We are setting the maximum,” said Councilman Joe Kallemeyn. “We can always lower it, but we can’t raise it. … If you have concerns, comments, questions, give us a call between now and December.”