Tax rate expected to decrease for fifth straight year

Wyoming City Council continued the long process of crafting a budget for 2021 at its biweekly meeting held virtually on Tuesday, Sept. 15.

Hannah Lynch from the accounting firm of Abdo, Eick and Meyers presented the preliminary results, which were crafted in part during a work session that lasted more than 2 1/2 hours on Aug. 5. The proposed the 2021 tax rate would decrease by 0.27% to 43.31%, while the 2021 tax levy would increase by 5.02%.

“The biggest factor relating to that increase is within the debt levy,” said Lynch, who noted that the debt levy increased by 31.18% while the general levy rose only 3.33% and the capital levy decreased 38.31%. “The 2020A GO bonds were issued this year in order to fund the 2020 street project, and the city will need to make principal and interest payments in 2021, thus the need for the addition to the levy in 2021.”

This would mark the fifth consecutive year that the city’s tax rate has dropped from a high of 57.14% in 2016 to the 43.31% mark in the 2021 proposal.

Here is what those numbers mean for a Wyoming home with a value of $300,000, which has a taxable market value of $289,800. If the proposed 2021 tax levy is approved, the taxes on a property at that value would drop from $1,263 in 2020 to $1,255 for next year.

That assumes, of course, that there is no change in the market value of a home. The median value for a home in Wyoming is $270,000 in 2020.

After Lynch completed her presentation, Wyoming Mayor Lisa Iverson asked about the tax capacity of the city, which could rise from a little over $9.725 million in 2020 to $10.277 million in the proposed 2021 levy.

“That comes directly from the Chisago County auditor,” Lynch said. “This is determined by the county, based on their evaluation of the city. Council controls the levy, but it does not control the tax capacity.”

Council Member Linda Nanko Yeager expressed concerns over the amount of the increase in the tax levy. 

“We’re in a recession caused by a pandemic, and people might have trouble paying their property taxes,” she said. “What do we ask our taxpayers to cut from their budget so that they can afford to pay this levy?”

Mayor Lisa Iverson asked Yeager what she would cut from the city’s budget.

“I think that when we have contract negotiations, we should keep the increases in line with what the [Consumer Price Index] and what Social Security increases are,” Yeager said. “I’m wondering if that tree fund can come down a little, and I wonder if we could separate upper management raises from contract negotiations. Give me time and I’ll come up with more.”

The preliminary levy was approved 4-1, with Yeager opposed.

Approval of the preliminary budget sets the maximum possible increase in next year’s budget and must be certified by Chisago County by Sept. 30.

The approval also set the date for the annual truth-in-taxation hearing for Tuesday, Dec. 1, starting at 7 p.m.

The final budget for 2021 is expected to be approved at the Tuesday, Dec. 15, meeting so it can be submitted to the Chisago County auditor on or before Dec. 30.

Technology updates

Council approved a pair of technology requests that will be paid with funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

Because of the need for council meetings to be held virtually, a resolution was presented to purchase iPad Pros for use by City Council members. The devices are expected to decrease the need for paper to print packets of information that routinely surpass more than 100 pages and also would allow council members to conduct city business without using personal devices.

The purchase of the iPads, along with a keyboard and a Apple pencil, for each council member at a total of $7,140 passed 4-1 with Yeager opposed. 

A second resolution recommended buying new computer equipment for staff, who, because of COVID-19 concerns, are at times forced to use personal computers when working from home. The proposal to purchase 12 Surface Pro devices along with a keyboard, docking station and Surface Pen at a cost of $27,214 passed unanimously.

Police officer sought

Wyoming Police Chief Paul Hoppe sought approval to begin the process to establish an eligibility list for hiring a new police officer.

The city has 10 officers budgeted for 2020 and also funded in the proposed 2021 budget, but there is one vacancy on the force. Wyoming Police Chief Paul Hoppe said he would like to fill that vacancy before the end of the year.

The proposal passed unanimously.

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