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Saturday, December 02, 2006

Crunch Time - New Brighton Truth in Taxation Hearing on 12/4

This Monday, December 4, the New Brighton City Council will hold its annual Truth in Taxation meeting at 6:30 PM in the council chambers.

This is the big one. Unlike the previous work sessions, there will be an open forum for public questions and comments. Realistically this is the final chance for the taxpayers of the city to convince the people who spend money that taxpayers are not a bottomless revenue source as the final budget will be approved at the regularly scheduled council meeting on December 12.

Judging from the turnout last year and the actions, or lack thereof, by the council in the budget work sessions it is advisable to arrive a bit early to assure getting a seat. It more than likely will be a long evening.

For those of you bean-counter types out there, the city has published the 2006 budget. You can download it here to get an idea on how the money is currently being spent.

If you are not up to speed with the way things are going, the work sessions for the 2007 budget have been interesting. At first glance it looked like things were starting to swing toward the interests of the taxpayer in that the apparent 6.39% maximum levy increase going into the hearing is better than the double-digit or near double-digit rates at the same point in the process the last couple of years. However, it came out in the last couple of work sessions that there is a little gamesmanship going on in moving some items off of the budget and subject for inclusion in a future bond issue. Bottom line is that the accounting game played to establish the relatively low apparent rate hike masks a level of spending comparable to past years--the city has cut very little, if any, actual spending.

Other points of interest related to the budget (this is not an all-inclusive list by any means):
  • Cutting the proposed 3% COLA increase for non-union city employees has been discussed but not seriously considered. The proposal reflects the position of the three liberals on the council that the non-union employees must be given a 3% raise because that's what was settled on with the union employees. This increase is more generous than many private sector employees get. The time has come to set the precedent that automatic raises are not to be expected, especially in times where money is tight.

  • The council has not seriously debated what seems to be excessive costs for Information Services.

  • The city found enough money to pay over twice the market rate to acquire and demolish the Marv's Transmission site. The demolition has also run into some unforseen (and expensive) problems. How will this impact city spending next year?

  • At the last meeting, on a 3-2 vote (the three libs stuck together as usual, with Bauman and Doffing voting in the interests of the taxpayers) the council decided to pay the Acting City Manager 95% of the full City manager rate retroactive to July. This is a huge pay hike for an employee who was not even at the top of the pay grade for her position. If she were truly this qualified for the job, why wasn't she interviewed for the permanent position?

  • Competitive bids for legal services have not yet been examined, yet the city is making a significant increase in the budget for legal services. Time is running short and some on the staff and council appear to be dragging their feet on this.

  • Eminent Domain is again being considered as a solution for acquiring some of the remaining NW Quadrant properties. It has also been brought up that the project has run into some unexpected and potentially very expensive environmental snags...
The proceedings will be televised on CTV16 if you can't make it live or don't want to deal with the crowd. It should be quite an interesting and rather lengthy meeting.

This is it, folks. The city is the taxing authority that can get the most direct input and feedback from the taxpayers. With the beating we are all going to take from the state and feds as a result of the last election, as well as the Mounds View Schools getting deeper into our pockets, it is imperitive that the city is reigned in when it comes to spending.

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