The Forest Lake City Council approved its 2021 levy during its Dec. 14 meeting. The levy was set at $11,447,799 (including levies for the general fund, debt service and other funds), representing a 5.49% increase over the 2020 property tax of $10,851,961.
The following is a breakdown of estimated city taxes compared to the prior year based on home market value determined by the county:
- A $150,000 home is expected to be at $511.91, up from $506.56.
- A $200,000 home is expected to be at $732.80, up from $725.15.
- A $250,000 home is expected to be at $953.69, up from $943.74.
- A $300,000 home is expected to be at $1,174.59, up from $1,162.33.
- A $400,000 home is expected to be at $1,616.38, up from $1,599.51.
Surface Water Fund
Forest Lake Lake Association President Jerry Grundtner spoke to the council during an open forum in the special meeting regarding his concerns over a lack of funding and support from the city for its efforts to keep the lake clean. According to Grundtner, the city has only allocated a $2,000 increase in 12 years. In 2009, the city initiated a surface water fee, with a fee of $8 per year. This year, the city will raise the fee to $48 from $40 the previous year.
“Homeowners on Forest Lake represent 15% of the households. Those homeowners spend an extra $1 million in taxes, and so there’s an expectation that the quality of Forest Lake is important to them, and there’s some value they get for the additional taxes,” Grundtner said. “…We spend about $151,000 to $155,000 on the lake, and our projection for 2021 is that number is going to be around $219,000. That’s a significant increase. No one entity can pay $219,000. It’s going to take a partnership.”
Grundtner also expressed concern over the $62,000 move from the general budget to the surface water management fund, claiming concerns those dollars would be utilized for other purposes and could negatively impact funding for the lake association. In 2014, the city passed a resolution that created that surface water management fund.
According to the city’s website, the surface water management fund is designated for projects relating to the transportation of stormwater from inlet to outfall, including projects to do with drainage systems, municipal streets, catch basins, curbs and gutters, ditches, and man-made channels and storm drains.
According to Grundtner, an attorney who reviewed that resolution for FLLA called it “vague,” which led to Grundtner’s concerns the funding would not be available to him.
City Administrator Patrick Casey disagreed, saying one of the main reasons why he suggested the move of those $62,000 out of the general fund to the stormwater management fund was that keeping the lake association funds in the general fund kept “pressure” to keep levy expenses down and could more likely impact lake association funding than if it were in the stormwater management fund.
“The shift of this is not meant to diminish the funding of the lakes, it’s actually more to protect it. … Every year there’s pressure on general fund and that directly relates to pressure on the levy. If we were to entertain an increase in lake funding, there’s more pressure on the levy and, quite frankly, a less likelihood to fund the increase in the lake association,” Casey said.
Mayor Mara Bain spoke in support for the change, but also added support for offering more city support in lake association funding.
“For us to just do a change in geography is the right approach, but I’m not comfortable with a zero increase,” Bain said of the city’s lack of increases in financial assistance to FLLA in years past. She said that she suspects that even with this year’s raise from $40 to $48 in the surface water fee still doesn’t compare to other area cities.
“As we’re thinking about how this reconstructed fund is going to operate, we should evaluate those surface water management fees,” Bain said.
Council member Kathy Bystrom, in support of more immediate increase of funding for the lake association, proposed a transfer of $10,000 from the human rights commission in the 2021 budget to the surface water management fund.
Council member Paul Girard, in his last council meeting, suggested to hold off on the increase in sewer rates to allow more funding for the stormwater runoff. That was ultimately declined by the rest of council due to the precarious nature of the budget for sewer and recommendations against such a movement from city staff.
“If the council does this, I want to make sure we don’t go down the path where we stop raising rates to meet our obligations,” Casey warned.
“We’re just barely out of the woods and have a fair amount of ground to make up there,” Bain said.
Council Member Kelly Monson said that seeing the increase in boat traffic this year, she’d support Bystrom’s recommendation, which was ultimately approved unanimously.