Increased police coverage driving 2014 levy hike in Columbus

Increase of 2.7 percent proposed


Paul Rignell
Columbus Reporter

Columbus City Council members have approved a preliminary general tax levy for 2014 with a raise of 2.7 percent to fund a budget that would grow by 1.1 percent.

The debt service levy would rise by 5.6 percent, relative to the realignment of Hornsby Street that moved the road’s southern access to Highway 97 further east and away from Interstate 35. About half of the cost for that $1.2 million project was covered through a grant from the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

City Administrator Elizabeth Mursko said that for the general budget and levy in 2014, most of the increase would come from a full year of increased police coverage by the Anoka County Sheriff’s Department.

A council majority voted last December to accept a two-year contract with Anoka County that continued a level of service from 2012 through the first six months of 2013, including a minimum eight daily hours of police presence.

The county’s coverage for Columbus grew to 10 daily hours effective in July, and the sheriff’s department is contracted to keep that level of presence through 2014.

The city kept its general levy increase at 1.14 percent for the current year over 2012, but Mursko said the council made that happen with a decision to use fund reserves that are no longer there.

Columbus is not on the list of cities that receive local government aid from the state for offsetting annual costs, and Mursko said permit revenues have been stagnant with only six new homes being built in 2013 to match the number from 2012.

She previewed that the council will consider three new commercial developments later this fall. That will not affect city taxes in 2014, Mursko said, but those projects would broaden the tax base and lower the levy burden on residential property owners.

The preliminary levy numbers for 2014 cannot be raised after their certification with Anoka County, but council members may vote to cut more from the budget prior to a hearing they will hold for a final levy approval in December.