Official: Blue Earth doing ‘very well’

BLUE EARTH – The city of Blue Earth is “doing very well” financially, according to Kathy Bailey, city administrator.

The council recently approved a levy increase around 13 percent, but the goal is to get that down to 3 percent, Bailey said.

The impact of that increase will be different for everyone, she said.

“It depends on the property taxes,” Bailey said. “If your taxes now are $1,000, they’d go up to $1,030.”

The council must make a final decision by Dec. 15.

The levy isn’t Blue Earth’s only source of income.

Local government aid, or LGA, is awarded by the state government. In 2013, Blue Earth received $1,535,819; in 2014, they will receive $1,774,258.

“It is given by the state to help the communities who are outlying and don’t have the tax levy base to provide the services that we do,” Bailey said.

“When the money comes to us, we divide it up by percentage,” Bailey said. The departments with the largest budgets get the largest cut of LGA money. “It gets evenly divided percentage-wise to different funds.”

Local government aid is very important to cities like Blue Earth.

“LGA is actually larger than our levies,” Bailey said, “so it makes us pretty dependent on it. I’d hate to take away the LGA and add it to the levy – it’d be tough.”

The LGA and levy are collected twice a year and the city must make the money last for six months.

“We have to pay light, water, all of your basic bills. We have all the same bills as a household, only larger,” Bailey said.

The city got a jolt recently when they found out the fire department will be over its $240,000 budget about 31 percent due to some equipment repairs that totaled around $60,000. Bailey said reserve cash from last year will help to pay for those repairs.

“In 2012, we had a surplus of $50,000,” Bailey said. “When we talk 2014, we’re trying to have expenditures and revenues match each other. Most communities in Minnesota are very conservative and have that mindset.”

It helps that the other departments are staying on budget.

“Every month, these financials are available on the website and they stay there,” she said, so the public can check them any time.

The department with the largest budget is Public Works, with $774,357 this year, but a lot falls under that banner, Bailey said.

“The big one is snow removal,” she said. “That’s also street repairs and includes all our parks.”

Public works expenses include gas for plows, salt and sand, and wages.

“Quite often, those operators run into overtime,” especially if it’s a snowy winter, Bailey pointed out. “It if snows on Christmas, they’re working.”

The crews also remove snow from public places like the Public Safety Building (fire and police station), City Hall, and Senior Center to make sure they are always accessible, especially in an emergency.

All that large equipment Public Works uses comes out of their budget, too, as it does for the police department, which has a budget of $518,302, Bailey said.

All the money is intended to go back into the community in some way.

“People get owly about paying a fee,” Bailey said, but the fee a resident pays for building a garage goes to paying for things like the building inspector. “Fees, fines and charges are directly related to what you’re getting.”