W’bago eyes 3.36% property tax hike

WINNEBAGO – Winnebago City Council passed a preliminary 2014 property tax levy of 3.36 percent Tuesday, but City Administrator Chris Ziegler promised to make every effort to get it down to zero.

“I’m very confident I can,” he said.

However, no increase might not mean no increase in what people see on their tax bill, he warned.

“If they did improvements to their house, they may see an increase,” he said.

Or, if the tax base shrinks and there are fewer people to shoulder the burden, then residents will see an increase.

With the levy increase now set at 3.36 percent, the council can opt to lower it but cannot increase it. The final levy must be established by Dec. 15.

Ziegler went over line items in the 2014 budget, noting increases such as pool expenses because it was open a week longer than usual.

“The capital equipment increase ($67,000) is [the] largest [increase in the budget],” Ziegler said.

Having an increase of only 3.36 percent is a relief to city officials.

“Last year, the preliminary levy was set at $549,905 which was an increase of 6.55 percent from the 2012 levy,” Ziegler said. “The 2013 final budget had a levy of $536,106 which was a 3.9 percent increase over 2012.

“Not too many years ago, it was 10 percent, 13 percent,” Ziegler said.

“I’m satisfied with 3.36 percent to start with,” said Councilman Rick Johnson. “We can go down, but we can’t go up. Having a cushion at this point in time is good.”

Turning to another matter, the council approved an early retirement incentive for police officers. Some officers put off retirement because they don’t think they can afford to pay the health insurance, Ziegler noted.

“The resolution establishes that a police officer meeting the criteria may receive health insurance coverage or reimbursement from the city in retirement for up to four years at the same rate as current full-time employees,” Ziegler said.

“This is basically setting the parameters, setting the maximum amount,” said City Attorney Doug Johanson.

Councilwoman Jean Anderson suggested adding a provision that if the retiree takes a another job with health benefits that the new benefits take precedence. She expects the move to save the city some money.

Johanson warned a provision like that could keep some people from accepting early retirement.

“The tax benefits are such, it would be beneficial for them to stay on our plan,” Ziegler said.

The council approved the resolution for early retirement incentives, but directed Ziegler to come up with wording to prohibit the double benefits situation.

In other news:

o Police Chief Bob Toland informed the council that a new squad car has arrived. As soon as the graphics are done, the car will be ready for use. So far, all equipment from a squad that was wrecked during pursuit of two Elmore Academy escapees has checked out, but the city is still in the process of getting one item evaluated.