Columbus council lightens load of levy increase

Cuts totaling $100,000 approved at budget meeting

 

Paul Rignell
Columbus Reporter

The Columbus City Council on Dec. 11 approved a final budget of $2.48 million for 2014. That figure is 4.65 percent higher than the 2013 budget.

The city’s operations will be funded mostly through a levy of $2.16 million.

Columbus’ levy will be assessed to the property owners with an average increase of 6.9 percent over the past year’s levy.

Despite low attendance at the meeting from land owners, the council members were far from ready to rubber-stamp the budget papers. They removed $100,000 from the budget and more than $30,000 from the levy through two hours of discussion and several split votes.

Council Member Jessie Messina read proposed allocations of $80,000 for public works capital equipment and $190,000 for blacktop and road maintenance, and he proposed majority cuts of $50,000 from public works capital and $150,000 from the blacktop fund.

Budget numbers showed the city spent only about $77,500 on blacktop, gravel and crack sealants in 2012 and $56,700 for those needs through the first nine months of 2013, but the costs have not been steady and were larger in recent years, including more than $249,000 in 2011.

Messina suggested the cuts as a way to counteract increased costs for public safety patrol from the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office and new debt service to cover the city’s portion of a Hornsby Street realignment. Relocating that Hornsby access to Highway 97 near the freeway was viewed as a move for safety, and the Minnesota Department of Transportation covered about half of the $1.2 million project with grant money.

Messina’s colleagues did not support his proposals. Council Member Bill Krebs said the moves would threaten the city’s infrastructure, and he added they could likely find dollars more suitable for cutting through most of the rest of the budget.

“Everything after safety and infrastructure is fluff,” Krebs said.

He joined Mayor Dave Povolny and Council Member Denny Peterson in voting to drop more than $20,000 in forestry services for 2014. Messina has served as the council’s liaison to the city’s Tree Board, and he voted with Council Member Jeff Duraine to retain the forestry services. The council did elect to keep $1,500 in the budget to fund the annual community Arbor Day activities.

Krebs voted against the 4-1 majority that saved the Arbor Day dollars, but he was also the only one to vote against a cut of $7,200 from a transportation fund (originally set at $17,500) that acts mostly as contingency for traffic studies.

The council voted 4-1, with Peterson dissenting, to cut $2,500 from a city marketing budget. In essence, that will cancel the city’s annual ColumBIZ event which has featured a breakfast and networking forum for the city’s home, commercial and industrial businesses in a banquet room at Running Aces Harness Park.

With that move, City Administrator Elizabeth Mursko advised the council they will want to create a different event for early next year when four focus groups, involving people from 21 Columbus businesses, are scheduled to convene for talks in a business retention and expansion program.

Peterson made special note that the more than $33,000 in the budget for the Senior Center and its programs remained intact.

The levy also includes about $9,000 for the Sunrise River Watershed Management Organization, which also represents East Bethel, Ham Lake and Linwood.

Messina summed up a unanimous feeling that reviewing and trimming the budget is no easy task.

“These are all things that are going to affect a lot of folks,” Messina said.

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