The Columbus City Council voted to approve the levy for the upcoming year at a special meeting held on Dec. 16.

The levy is set at $3,491,304, a 4.9% increase from last year’s levy at $3,328,286. The total levy amount has not changed from the preliminary levy set back in September, but funds within the levy have been moved around. The tax rate was also set at 47.65%. Property owners with the average value for residential property in Columbus, which is $230,500, would be responsible for close to $1,021 in payable taxes, a $16 increase in property taxes payable from last year.

The City Council held the special meeting after there was an issue with final numbers being reported through Anoka County. City Administrator Elizabeth Mursko discussed this issue with the council at its meeting on Dec. 9. Anoka County had not fully evaluated each business within the city correctly, resulting in the tax base not being able to be set. The issue was resolved by the time of the Dec. 16 meeting, and council members were able to discuss the levy and budget.

The council then moved on to discussing the budget, and Councilmember Jeff Duraine raised a point that he brought forth during the council’s budget and levy workshops in September: The proposed hiring of an assistant city administrator and thus increase in the budget for city staff.

“A city administrator, they make quite a fair amount of money. So an assistant city administrator is going to make quite a bit also, and they are coming in with no knowledge, and Liz is going to train them in. Who says that they are going to stay around?” Duraine posed.

The proposed total amount of money dedicated to the position on the budget is currently $50,000.

While Duraine does not like the council’s decision to bring on an assistant city administrator, Councilmember Janet Hegland disagreed with Duraine’s argument, citing what she sees is an increased workload.

“What we are trying to hire for, Jeff, is the increase in activity here — I mean, this year almost killed people,” Hegland said. “So we have more work than we have staff available. If there is anything this pandemic has taught us, it’s that we are staffed too lean to weather any bumps in the road.”

Mayor Jesse Preiner also defended the decision to bring on an additional employee to help with the workload.

“I don’t think that $50,000 is going to kill us, and it could really help make a tremendous difference,” Preiner said. “I don’t like having increases of any kind, but I really think it’s necessary.”

The proposed position will begin sometime in 2021 as the city goes through the hiring process.

The council then moved to vote on the levy, and it was approved after a 4-1 vote, with Duraine casting the sole vote against.

The budget is not yet set and will be voted on and discussed during the council’s last meeting of the year on Dec. 30.

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