Council to set preliminary levy end of September

City budget season has begun, and with that, Forest Lake is considering a levy increase of 9.46%. The City Council will continue budget discussions this month and will approve a preliminary levy at its Sept. 27 meeting. The preliminary levy amount can go down when the city approves its final budget in December, but the city cannot exceed the preliminary levy amount. 

The current proposed budget is $29,446,930 for the year at this point, with a tax levy of $12,530,771, compared to last year’s levy of $11,447,799, which is a 9.46% increase. This would equate to an estimated tax impact of $1,213.68 for an average-priced home of $300,000, an increase from $1,114.04. For a $250,000 home, the proposed tax impact would be $985.44, and for a $400,000 home, that would be $1,670.17. Because the county, which sets property values, has not yet completed the numbers for the year, those numbers are preliminary estimates.

That sets 2022’s proposed tax rate at 41.88%, an increase from 40.641% in 2021. In a 10-year time span, 41.88% remains near the city’s average. The highest tax rate came in 2014 at 44.633%, and the lowest coming in 2019 at 39.58%.

How to pay for road improvements continues to be one of the biggest budget topics at the forefront of discussion this year, including options for bonding. 

“I want to be sensitive to our local taxpayers, but I also recognize — I get feedback to the opposite, that there’s a little bit of an appetite for some road improvement in the community,” council member Kathy Bystrom said. “It would be just really helpful to kind of paint that comprehensive picture.”

Other impacts to the budget include additional roles in the city, including a full-time role, which will be split between community development and economic development, a request by the EDA that City Administrator Patrick Casey said he believed was warranted, and a new police officer and police sergeant. According to Casey, the city has added more than 1,000 living units in the last 10 years without adding a police officer.

“That’s an issue we need to make sure we understand,” Casey said.

Last year, the Parks, Trails and Lakes Commission requested an increase in the PTL budget, claiming it has been long under-funded for its duties and responsibilities to the city. The city’s proposed 2022 budget includes an increase of $50,000 to $100,000, which represents 0.8% of the budget. 

Other possible increases in the budget include an increase in amounts given toward the watershed district and lake associations, which is not funded by the general fund but by the city’s surface water management fund. 

Additional dollars toward Lakes Center for Youth and Families was brought up by Bystrom.

“We’ve been providing that funding at the same level for a number of years, and talked about a potential increase, and I just want to make sure we see that reflected somewhere if we’re going to move ahead with that,” Bystrom said. 

Variance for driveway approved

The Forest Lake City Council unanimously approved a variance request for a zoning amendment to allow a driveway on a lot that connects with a Wyoming piece of property. The decision overturned a planning commission vote, which had previously denied Dave Smith, who recently purchased a nearly 5-acre piece of land, the ability to purchase a part of a lot from a resident of Forest Lake. The purpose is to create a driveway access to his land in Wyoming where he intends to build a home, which does not have easy access from Wyoming.

Smith appealed the decision to the council, which was debated during the Aug. 16 meeting, and ended in a split 2-2 vote as Bystrom was absent. The biggest issue for Mayor Mara Bain and council member Kelly Monson was the precedent the decision could set, while council members Sam Husnik and Hanna Valento thought it was an easy way to help a resident solve a problem. After the split vote, the council tabled the discussion, and reapproached the topic in its Monday, Aug. 30 meeting.

Bystrom, who was absent at the previous meeting, said while she said she was “on the fence,” she indicated a nod to approval of the variance.

“I take a look at this chunk of property and I think to myself, it’s going to sit there. Nothing else is going to be done with it. It’s going to sit there and here’s an opportunity for us to potentially pull away some of the difficulties we impose on people sometimes. I’m really leaning towards this being a reasonable use of this land,” she said. 

The council added terms to the variance before its approval, including driveway width, that it would accommodate access to no more than a single home, and that nothing else will be built on that land. 

Bain indicated that she was comfortable reversing her previous decision due to the conditions listed on the variance, and that it gives the city more control over what could be done on the lot.

“My concerns on us creating a slippery slope is mitigated by the fact that this is a very unique circumstance that a lot line adjustment is not allowed because of municipal and county lines,” Bain said.

Hannah Davis is the Area Editor at the Forest Lake Times. You can contact her at hannah.davis@ecm-inc.com or (763)233-0709

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