Assessments possible, but will not affect 2014 levy
Wyoming City Council members and city staff spent almost two hours in a budget workshop discussion before the regular council meeting on Sept. 3. Talks centered around the big question hanging over the city: What is next for street repairs?
The referendum to sell bonds for street reconstruction failed Aug. 27, with 549 voters opposing the measure and 362 lending support. The bonds would have financed long-delayed street repairs. The council certified the results at its regular meeting Sept. 3.
In the 2013 levy, $500,000 was dedicated to the street reconstruction fund. That same levying was to continue annually as part of a 10-year plan.
At the Sept. 3 workshop, officials announced that the plan will be scrapped. The fund is set up as debt service, to provide an instrument to make bond payments. Without bonds sold for street repairs, the city cannot legally levy for the fund.
The proposed 2014 levy does not include $500,000 for the fund, so it is back to square one regarding the financing of street repairs.
“Absolutely anything we do (now) is going to cost us all more money,” said Mayor Eric Peterson between the referendum and last week’s budget talks. “The choice will be the one with least amount of (financial) impact on residents.”
Legal and engineering work, in anticipation of street repairs, has been completed to the tune of $175,000.
A unanimous council vote would not be needed to assess up to 20 percent of the costs to affected homeowners. The city would be required to use bonding to finance its to-be-determined share of costs, with the street reconstruction fund staying in place.
Without bonding, the city would have to re-categorize expenses. It would also mean the city’s two JOBZ companies, Polaris and Xccent, would not be contributing to the cost of street repairs.
City Administrator Craig Mattson confirmed that the city “can only levy for street reconstruction if there is a declared project, approved by a 4/5 vote of the City Council.”
With no streets project, there is no authorization for a debt levy in the 2014 levy.
“For street reconstruction to move forward in Wyoming, the City Council will have to consider some level of property assessment from the benefiting property to support the sale of a bond issue,” Mattson said.
Under the assessment model, the city can declare a project and order it, but it cannot proceed unless bonds are sold.
If an assessment is passed, it means that all residents will continue to pay for the city’s portion through property taxes and to cover the gap for assessments to affected property owners, which cannot be paid in total up front. In addition, affected property owners will be assessed for part of the work.
Assessment scenarios will be discussed at a Sept. 17 council work session. The 2014 levy will not be affected. Bonds could be sold in 2014, with a related levy in 2015.
Overall the proposed 2014 budget of $3,450,637 is a 1.5 percent increase. The 2013 budget total was $3,398,918.
The 2013 levy was $3,904,195. Legislative levy limits for 2014 cap increases to 3 percent. At the time of the meeting, officials awaited clarification from the state about the calculation.
The state’s Local Government Aid to the city for 2014 is about $170,000. However, that amount must be subtracted from the 2013 levy before an increase is calculated.
“So there is a question as to whether the city has received a windfall or not,” Mattson said.
The proposed general fund budget for 2014 is $374,937, the same as for 2013. The same holds for the budgets for the council ($25,226), boards and commissions ($15,676), library ($46,200) and municipal building ($39,700).
The budgeted amount for the municipal office staff is set to increase $34,520 to $260,480. Mostly this is due to retirement funding and increases in workers compensation.
Costs for the Building Department are reduced about $2,890, to $92,184. The Public Works budget is projected downward about $11,000, mostly because of reduced engineering costs, rentals and building maintenance.
The Public Safety budget for 2014 shows a slight increase, from $1,444,484 to $1,457,171. Several reductions in the Fire Department expenses are proposed; vehicle costs are down from $105,000 to $64,000.
Public Safety Director Paul Hoppe explained plans to target critical responses with shifts of responders to provide optimal staff but not extra staffers. There are also plans to rent or lease space to North Memorial ambulance in a restructured area of the fire station, thus providing faster response to medical emergencies.