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HL City Council approves 9.93 percent levy increase for 2020
Dec. 6, 2019

Jodie Murray
Correspondent

HOWARD LAKE, MN – The Howard Lake City Council conducted its truth-in-taxation hearing Dec. 3.

This annual hearing allows residents to bring forth questions and comments related to the proposed budget and levy. It also allows the council to consider resident opinions prior to adopting the final property tax levy.

This year, City Administrator Nick Haggenmiller admitted to an error on the property tax statements that were mailed to Howard Lake residents recently that led to panic in some residents. Although Haggenmiller assumes blame for the error, it was a clerical not mathematical error, whereas an additional $126,000 of debt service was included in the overall levy reported on the Wright County form.

The statements reflect a 13 percent error to the proposed levy, which equates to about the same percentage of an error on the overall noted increase as stated at the bottom of the proposed property tax statement for pay 2020. Residents are encouraged to contact city hall for a more accurate calculation.

As part of the budget formation, city staff and council reviewed market information. Haggenmiller notes a 9 percent increase in the city’s tax base. This includes new businesses, roughly 30 new residences, and property valuation increases. The proposed property tax increase of 9 percent should result in property owners with the same valuation paying roughly the same amount on their city tax bill, according to Haggenmiller.

The property tax levy is part of a larger financial management plan to prepare for the identified $25.8 million in capital improvements in the next 10 years.

Haggenmiller noted the operational budget year-to-year shows only a slight increase of about 2.5 percent related to increases in personnel expenses, health insurance, and general operational increases. There are no anticipated increases or decreases to essential services, staffing, or programming.

Police, fire, and street repair continues to make up the majority of the city’s expenditures.

Seventy-five percent of the city’s revenue comes from local government aid (LGA) and city taxes. Suggested valuation data indicates that only residential and industrial properties that have experienced a 5 percent value increase may see an increase.

Several residents were in attendance for the truth-in-taxation hearing, but agreed with the adopted level after hearing about the clerical mistake.

Haggenmiller presented an alternate option to reduce the final levy and reduce the capital improvement plan (CIP) by $50,000. This option could cause shifts in the fund balance for future years. The city’s credit rating has increased from A to AA, which is good.

Immediately following the adjournment of the hearing, the city council called to order the regularly scheduled council meeting.

The council approved the general fund levy of $939,359, then approved the debt service levy for $126,227, for a total of $1,065,585. The council also approved the proposed 2020 general fund budget.

Odds and ends

In other business, the council:

• learned Howard Lake Wine & Spirits reported an increase in sales of approximately 11 percent in November, following the conclusion of the much-needed store improvement initiative that wrapped up in the fall.

Although the store suffered some slow times during the remodel, staff anticipates finishing strong this year and has seen the return of many regular customers.

• scheduled a special session for next week, to allow the city council the opportunity to meet and briefly interview finalists for the open assistant city administrator position. The city received more than 20 applicants, and narrowed the field by half with a questionnaire.

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