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City Council approves preliminary levy increase

The Albert Lea City Council approved a preliminary budget and a 3.31 percent increase in the preliminary property tax levy Monday evening.

The preliminary budget and levy passed by a 6-1 vote. Third Ward Councilor George Marin was the lone dissenting vote.

Under the preliminary budget, the 2017 tax levy is $6.36 million, an increase from $6.15 million in 2016.

The city’s preliminary budget is set at $15.8 million, a nearly 4.3 percent increase from $15.1 million in 2016.

Property owners whose property value has increased will likely see a tax increase, Albert Lea City Manager Chad Adams said, noting the amount of the increase will depend on individual property values.

Property owners whose land value has not changed, however, will see a nearly $5 tax decrease due to an increase in the city’s tax base.

Adams said the increase is due to inflationary costs on compensation, such as health insurance premium and wage increases.

Increased fuel and utility costs are also a factor in the increase, he said.

The council will try to decrease the levy before December, Adams said, noting a local government aid increase, which has not passed this year would have allowed the city to propose a preliminary levy with no levy increase.

The council cannot increase the levy about the proposal before December per state law.

Adams said city officials are working toward having no increase in the general fund levy for the fifth year in a row. The general fund levy covers the police, fire, streets, parks, library, engineering and administration departments.

“We’re continuing toward that again over the next several months,” he said, noting there is still a possibility the Legislature will reconvene.

Fourth Ward Councilor Reid Olson said he was pleased with the budget and tax levy.

“I think it’s wonderful,” Olson said. “Anytime you can add property value through new construction, and have a tax levy that increases at a lower amount than your taxable value, that’s always a good thing.”

Olson said he was optimistic the preliminary levy can be decreased before December.

Marin said he voted no because there were some projects in the budget he did not support, noting he had some philosophical differences with the budget.

“I think there is more that we can do,” he said, noting there are multiple government entities that have the power to tax in the area.

“It might not appear that there is a huge increase, but when you look at the whole pie, taxes are going up,” Marin said.

In other action, the council:

Granted approval of a site plan review in connection with a purchase of land by Minnesota Energy Resources from Greater Jobs Inc. to build an operations and service center for training, offices and storage space MRES officials hope will be built by the end of the year southeast of Crossroads Boulevard and Betha Larson Avenue

Accepted the 2017 Port Authority budget. No tax levy was proposed.

Accepted a $1,742 grant award from Minnesota Historical Society to assist with registration and other costs to attend the 2016 Statewide Historic Preservation Conference in Hastings. Heritage Preservation members and city staff will attend the three-day conference.

Approved a $72,504 library services and technology grant for Albert Lea Public Library’s Check Out The Internet @ ALPL project. Patrons who are Albert Lea and Freeborn County residents will be able to borrow Wi-Fi hotspots or mobile tablets for up to three weeks at a time.The grant funds will enable the library to add 60 mobile hotspots and 25 mobile iPad tablets to its collection for 12 months.

Accepted a bid and approved an agreement with Seating and Athletic Enterprises LLC for the replacement of the telescopic seating system on the north side of Nystrom Arena at City Arena. The original bleachers, installed in 1976, will be replaced. The new bleachers will have handicap seating and plastic seats.

Approved closing Fountain Street from Bridge Avenue to Newton Avenue from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 8 for a fire prevention open house.

Received the Albert Lea Police Department Reserves promotion ceremony.

“Upon completion of an extensive training regimen, the unit continues to be an asset through 2016,” Adams said in a report.” Reserve officers support the department’s mission to enhance quality of life by providing excellent public safety through leadership, integrity and in collaborative partnerships with the community.” Applications for the reserve unit will be accepted through Sept. 24.

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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