City officials got a preliminary look at what the city’s property tax levy and budget could be next year as they heard more budget requests during the last of two special budget hearings on July 29.

The two hearings started the city’s budget-making process for the coming year, which will provide much of the blueprint for what the city will do and decide any tax increase or decrease.

City officials recognized they don’t have all the information they need to set next year’s tax levy, such as the property tax valuation from Sherburne County or fuel prices, and want to further discuss some of funding requests at future city council meetings. The city has until Sept. 3 to certify its 2020 property tax levy and will adopt the budget and levy in November.

As it presently stands, the city budget would push Elk River’s property tax levy up by about 13 percent over the current one. Elk River’s net tax capacity is also expected to increase. The city’s tax rate will also be an important factor. City officials say those numbers will likely change later this year as officials decide the budget and receive more information.

The July 29 budget hearings were largely quick, as many of the city departments that were under review did not have any changes proposed for 2020. City council members discussed several items, including a proposed $190,000 infrastructure replacement for the city’s information technology department and reviewed position requests for the Elk River Fire Department, which would like to add three new positions next year.

Mayor John Dietz asked Information Technology Director Bob Pearson about “the big ticket” — $190,000 in the capital outlay section of the department’s proposed budget. Pearson said the city’s current equipment has a useful life for five years. While staff take time every night to back data up, employees can can go to a backup if systems crash before 2 p.m., but no back-up exists for the hours in between. Pearson likened the situation to “writing a story when you haven’t saved the story.”

He said the new system would cost $110,000 for the base and $80,000 for disaster recovery that would mean no loss of data for city staff.

Council Member Garrett Christianson asked Pearson if the replacement cost will be ongoing; Pearson said it will be. Dietz asked him for a “ballpark” estimate for the replacement. Pearson agreed.

Fire Chief Mark Dickinson said he wants three more positions to fill needs. A residential retail specialist would inspect Elk River’s rental housing and help eliminate the backlog of complaints, and a deputy chief of training would be in charge of training for the department and the city and would offset the costs of training.

The hearing ended with Dietz asking Finance Director Lori Ziemer to find ways the city could eliminate some of the proposed capital outlay items, like a vehicle diagnostic scanner requested by the Equipment Services division and iPlan review tablets requested by Building Safety, in the current budget instead of having to add them to the one being planned for next year. Ziemer said she’d look into it.

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