The Waconia City Council approved a 2021 operating budget and tax levy of just under $5.9 million at its final meeting of the current year last Monday, Dec. 21. The total city budget for next year amounts to just over $8.6 million, which includes a $2.7 million special debt levy.

The general operating levy funds the payroll for city staff and cost of providing city services. The special debt levy helps fund city infrastructure projects. Taken together, the city’s overall tax levy increased about 2.15 percent from 2020.

The budget has been through multiple reviews, and budget details were reported earlier in these pages. Detailed budget information also is available on the city website: waconia.org.

As part of the budget package, the council also approved a 2021 pay and benefits plan for city employees, which reflects a 2 percent cost-of-living increase and 8 percent increase in health insurance costs.

The council also approved modifications of a resolution passed last spring authorizing expanded outdoor dining areas to apply to winter outdoor services for local bars and restaurants. The action comes in response to latest executive orders that again prohibit indoor service due to the pandemic.

In other action, the council approved a land use ordinance amendment and two property variances at its last meeting.

The ordinance amendment allows garden centers as a conditional use in the city’s medium density residential district, known as R-3. The change specifically addresses the Willow Winds garden center off Highway 10, which has become surrounded by a new residential development and is operating under an interim use permit. The ordinance amendment would make the garden center a conditional use, allowing the garden center to remain in the area guided for future residential development. While the ordinance amendment is an outcome from earlier discussions about the future of the existing garden center, it would apply to possible garden centers in other R-3 districts; however, they would have to meet several conditions, including requiring direct access from a collector street, not through the neighborhood, and a minimum parcel size of five acres.

The ordinance amendment passed on a 4-1 vote, with council member Peter Leo objecting to any garden center in a residential development.

The council also approved a variance for a home demolition and rebuild at 227 Lakeview Terrace Boulevard with conditions for erosion and water runoff control. Also, a setback variance for a remodel at another nearby lakeshore property at 80 Pointe Drive, which already falls within the 50-foot minimum structure setback required in the shoreland district.

In other business, the council approved a change to its ordinance that regulates licensing and sale of tobacco products. The change raises the minimum tobacco sale age from 18 to 21, which reflects changes at the federal and state level. In addition to updating the ordinance language to prohibit sales for anyone under the age of 21, the revised ordinance also references liquid and vaping products, items that were excluded from the previous ordinance.

The council authorized city staff to obtain quotes and bids for Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) improvements for City Square Park. The main feature of those improvements will be a ramp to the park gazebo, as well as additional sidewalks and improved access points to the park, according to Craig Eldred, director of Public Services. The cost is estimated at about $190,000, with the work expected to be completed in 2022 in tandem with other planned downtown infrastructure work around the park.

In its consent agenda, the council authorized staff to obtain quotes for new playground equipment and park shelter for Oak Pointe Park, and make approximately $60,000 worth of other improvements at the park. The park updates are slated for 2021.

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