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Council raises 2014 preliminary levy $34,000 from 2013 levy

The Breezy Point City Council set its 2014 preliminary levy Tuesday, Sept. 3, for $34,000 higher than the 2013 levy. The decision was made in a 4-1 vote, with council member Otto Schmid opposed.

The total preliminary levy was set at $1,753,080. The levy can go down, but not up, before the final levy is set in December. The city has a five-year history of reducing or keeping a flat final levy.

Council member Tom Lillehei supported an increase in the levy.

“To me a flat levy is absolutely absurd,” Lillehei said. “You cannot provide the same goods and services on a flat budget.”

The council did not decide where that extra $34,000 would go, if it’s passed as the final levy, and in fact made a point not to earmark the funds.

The council did discuss putting some of the money toward the parks department or some of the money toward the increase in costs of the city staff’s health insurance.

Staff noted that health insurance quotes for the next year showed a 22 percent increase, amounting to $236.50 per family per month. An extra $15,000 would cover half that cost, city administrator Joe Rudberg noted.

Council member Diane Williams expressed opposition to the $15,000 levy increase for health insurance, saying the city had set a cap on what it would pay for staff health insurance.

Rudberg said that cap was set in 2009 at $1,051. Currently the cost is $1,075 per month for staff health insurance, so staff pays the difference.

“I see this trend everywhere,” Williams said. “Everyone’s having to take up more of their own expenses. I have sympathy for them, but on the other hand I’m paying more for mine. … I think they should carry more of theirs, too.”

Mayor JoAnn Weaver said, in regard to the cap on health insurance, “Time has changed, philosophy changes, council changes.”

Schmid felt the levy should be raised so the money could be used for city projects. He was in favor of putting money in the parks department or other areas of funding for projects like road improvements or sewer expansion.

“If we want to see these projects move forward we’re going to need to build a fund,” Schmid said. “I’d like to see some effort made to put (parks) at a level that’s going to see some of these projects constructed.”

Several parks projects were mentioned, including a disc golf course or the channel fishing boardwalk.

The council first voted on whether to add $34,000 to the levy with $15,000 going to staff health insurance and $19,000 going to parks, but that was defeated.

Instead, the council voted to add the $34,000 without making any decisions at that meeting for where the money should go.

The council will set its final 2014 levy and budget in December.