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Preliminary tax levy up 19.11% in Nisswa; council hopes to whittle that down

Mayor said he realizes people are feeling the pain of high prices, yet the city needs to operate and provide what residents want.

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NISSWA — Saying they had a hard time swallowing it, three Nisswa City Council members voted to set a preliminary general revenue tax levy at $3,318,405 for 2023, which is $532,405 higher than this year’s levy for a 19.11% hike.

Mayor John Ryan and council members Mark Froehle and Jesse Zahn reminded citizens that this number can be lowered - but not raised - before final adoption in December.

A truth in taxation meeting will be at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 20, before the council’s regular monthly meeting at 7 p.m., for people to comment on or ask questions about the city’s proposed budget and tax levy for 2023.

Read more about area cities' preliminary levies
Council meets goal of setting preliminary levy at 50% of the projected 2023 net tax capacity; mayor promotes lower number
Reasons for hike are outlined and include a reduction in revenue and a capital outlay increase

Council members Don Jacobson and Mark Utzinger were absent from the Sept. 26 meeting to set the preliminary levy.

Ryan said he realizes people are feeling the pain of high prices, yet the city and department heads need to operate, and the city needs to provide what residents want.

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“I constantly hear, ‘Why can’t you cut our taxes? Why can’t you lower our taxes?’” Ryan said. “And I keep telling them, ‘I can. We can do that easily. We just need to cut services. What don’t you want?’ And I get no answer.”

Ryan said he hears people say the city’s public works department has so much good equipment, yet he doesn’t hear complaints when roads are cleared with the equipment needed for that job.

“The bottom line is - you want your taxes cut; what don’t you want?” he reiterated.

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After an October budget workshop, the consensus is to take requests for two employees out, lowering the proposed tax levy from a 19.11% increase to a 13.48% hike

Zahn said no one is comfortable paying a tax, whether it be a fuel tax or a tax on a drive-thru cheeseburger.

“It’s the society we live in,” he said.

Nisswa has and will see growth, and to be able to accommodate growth with existing services, equipment and personnel, the council must heed their requests, Zahn said.

Froehle said the council can’t expect department heads to do long-range and capital planning and then go on the low end for a preliminary levy.

“Let’s go with the wish list of 19.11(%) and work back,” he said.

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The three council members agreed they favored working with a higher levy number and trying to pare it down with input from the full council.

Three scenarios

City Administrator Jenny Max showed three levy increase scenarios:

  • 19.11% increase reflects all new budget requests, including staffing, equipment, etc.
  • 13.48% increase reflects all new budget requests, minus full-time staffing requests.
  • 9% increase reflects an estimate of what the 2023 budget would require to roll forward the 2022 budget and add only the determined wage and general cost increases.

Equipment matrixes would be partially funded but not reflective of the significant increase in pricing the city is experiencing now. Levies with just base priorities with wages, insurance and investment in long-term infrastructure.
Staff will review their budgets to determine if anything can be pre-purchased in the current year, using unspent current year budget funds. This may help alleviate smaller requests impacting the 2023 budget.

Possible big expenditures include:

  • City hall improvements estimated at $300,000.
  • Fire hall roof estimated at $80,000.
  • Planning and zoning ordinance revision.
  • Downtown Master Plan, using a consulting firm.
  • Two new staff: A full-time officer manager for the police department and a full-time maintenance technician for the public works department.

Wage adjustments have a big budget impact as well. The city is a service organization so wages and staff are the biggest expense, Max said.
Increased property values also affect taxes.

Preliminary levy totals

The total preliminary levy of $3,318,405 includes:

  • General property tax levy: $2,768,595.
  • General obligation street reconstruction bond 2012 for the County Road 18/Highway 371 realignment project: $90,500    
  • General obligation capital improvement plan bond 2013A: $185,522  
  • General obligation street reconstruction bond 2018 for various road improvements: $273,788.

Find recordings of Nisswa City Council meetings on the city's YouTube channel.

Nancy Vogt, editor, may be reached at 218-855-5877 or nancy.vogt@pineandlakes.com . Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Nancy.

Nancy Vogt is editor of the Pineandlakes Echo Journal, a weekly newspaper that covers eight communities in the Pequot Lakes-Pine River areas - from Nisswa to Hackensack and Pequot Lakes to Crosslake.

She started as editor of the Lake Country Echo in July 2006, and continued in that role when the Lake Country Echo and the Pine River Journal combined in September 2013 to become the Pineandlakes Echo Journal. She worked for the Brainerd Dispatch from 1992-2006 in various roles.

She covers Nisswa, Pequot Lakes, Lake Shore and Crosslake city councils, as well as writes feature stories, news stories and personal columns (Vogt's Notes). She also takes photos at community events.

Contact her at nancy.vogt@pineandlakes.com or 218-855-5877 with story ideas or questions. Be sure to leave a voicemail message!
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