On September 22, the Watertown City Council met to discuss a few community items, one of the more impactful items being the 2021 Preliminary Levy. As this was their last meeting before having to submit the proposed levy before September 30, the plan was to approve the levy. As with all preliminary levies, the amount isn’t set in stone, and the levy can be lowered before finalization.
Shane Fineran, city administrator, presented the 2021 Preliminary Levy to the city council for discussion. According to Fineran, the budget and levy have been discussed since July by staff. The first part of looking at a levy is of course looking at how far the community has come. The good news for Watertown is that, despite an odd year for everyone, the city is continuing to grow, though not as much this year as previous.
This year’s taxable value increase is just over three percent, which still indicates “positive trends” according to Fineran. Even if slow, growth is still growth, and the more a community grows, the more they can share the levy. The city can also lessen their impact through being a net receiver in the fiscal disparities formula, which simply means that the levy has less of an impact on the taxpayers. Again, this year’s formula is a little less than last year’s, but that’s to be expected with the lower growth.
All in all, based on the growth, TIF districts, and the formula, the taxable value has increased by two percent in Watertown. With that in mind, staff looked at the average value home and what projects are coming up for 2021. The number the decided on was to increase the taxes by 3.1 percent, or just over $42 annually for the average value home in the city.
While this does seem like a sizable increase compared to previous years, it’s important to note that this is just the preliminary levy, not the final.
“The preliminary levy can never go up,” said Fineran. “We have three more months of budget work ahead of us.”
So while the number is higher than last year’s final, it will continue to go down. The next three months will have staff continuing to look at funds and revenue, which is pretty up in the air right now. Coronavirus relief funds are also part of the budget, so changes are of course going to continue. In the end, the higher number gives staff some flexibility when finalizing the levy.
Part of a levy is also the Special Debt Levy, which is designed to of course help support the debts the city has incurred with bigger projects. Next year, the city is planning to support about $460,000 in debt. Those moneys are going to various projects, one of the biggest ones is the law enforcement contract that’s bringing in another full time police officer.
Of course, the city has all the budgetary details laid out on their website. Residents are able to see what goes into the calculations for the levy and budget, and give their input at public hearings up until the end.
With the deadline coming up, and staff ready to continue their work, staff recommended that the preliminary levy of $2.6 million. The resolution was passed unanimously to be submitted to the county.