Ramsey City Hall file photo

Ramsey City Hall (File photo)

A split Ramsey City Council approved a preliminary property tax levy with a 17.77% increase to replace the city’s franchise fee that expires at the end of the year.

The $15.3 million preliminary levy includes a $2.3 million increase over last year — most of which is designated for the pavement management levy to partially replace the anticipated $2 million in lost franchise fee revenue. The proposed budget includes $1.67 million in the pavement management fund — calculated based on 15% of the $11.2 million general fund levy.

The measure passed 4-3, with Mayor Mark Kuzma and Council Members Matt Woestehoff and Chris Riley dissenting.

Personnel funding will increase by about half a million dollars next year for current employee salary adjustments and new personnel or additional hours, Finance Director Diana Lund said.

That includes increasing hours for a building maintenance worker for the new public works campus as well as a police tech to complete customer service requests and process police reports, Lund said.

Broken down, the general fund expenditures are on par with last year’s — 46% on public safety, 15% on public works, 28% on general government and 10% on parks and recreation.

The proposal met pushback from Kuzma, Woestehoff and Riley. The three also voted against measures earlier this year to get rid of franchise fees without a concrete backup plan for funding roads.

Woestehoff expressed distaste for the preliminary budget, saying it didn’t fully fund the roads like the franchise fee did.

“I am not saying we should bring back the franchise fee, because that decision was made months ago — even though that is the most economic way to proceed,” Woestehoff said. “I’m saying that if we’re going to put it on the levy, we should put it all on the levy. $330,000 less for roads is not a solution, it’s not a replacement for the franchise fee.”

The remaining road funding would come from the city’s reserves.

“We have the money there, rather than sit on it, let’s take some of that, put it towards the budget, so we don’t have to increase taxes as much,” Council Member Dan Specht said.

Council Member Ryan Heineman called Woestehoff’s comments a misrepresentation of the budget, saying that in the long run the plan should save the taxpayers money.

“If you look at all the facts and the numbers, this is a better plan,” he said.

If the dissenting council members wanted a better plan, they should have come up with their own plan, Heineman said.

“If there’s critiques on this plan, I wish you have made them with a counterproposal, and not at the dais,” Heineman said.

When the council was discussing nixing the franchise fee earlier this year, Riley said he would accept a proposal to replace the franchise fees, as long as it fully funded the roads.

“I said I’d live with it; I can’t live with this,” Riley said.

The finalized budget will be adopted Dec. 14.

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