Brooklyn Park’s City Council approved a preliminary levy without an increase for the Economic Development Authority and Housing and Redevelopment Authority at its Aug. 24 meeting.

The move was in contrast with the body’s standard operating procedure, where the preliminary levy is usually set high before being reduced during the budgeting process.

“Because of social distancing, there’s no hugging, (but) this is an awesome, awesome opportunity to obtain a goal once,” said Councilmember Mark Mata, who has unsuccessfully opposed budget and levy increases in past city budgets.

The council sets two levy rates in its budgeting process: a preliminary rate and a final rate. Preliminary rates set the highest rate at which a local government can levy a property tax. These rates are used by the county to provide property-specific property tax estimates prior to truth-in-taxation hearings.

After truth-in-taxation hearings, governing bodies set their adopted property tax levies.

Historically, the council has approved the preliminary levy at the highest rate allowable by law with the rationale that it allows the city maximum flexibility in its budgeting process. Those levies are then typically reduced in the budgeting process, but often represent an increase over the previous year.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 levy for both the EDA and HRA were proposed at the same rate as were adopted in the 2020 budget.

The preliminary EDA levy was approved at $1.2 million, and the HRA levy was approved at $859,752.

The council was unanimous in its support for the proposal, with Councilmembers Terry Parks and Susan Pha absent.

The council spoke in favor of the proposal, but several members also expressed concerns about the need for increased code enforcement across the city.

Councilmember Lisa Jacobson said the city needs to have more proactive enforcement activities, and may need an increase in the number of inspectors performing code enforcement work. “(Residents) shouldn’t be the code enforcement police in our community,” she said.

Mata, who moved approval of the proposal, said $500,000 should be moved from elsewhere in the budget to support increased code enforcement work and staffing. Fines could also be increased to fund the work and to discourage repeat offenders, he said.

Counilmember Tonja West-Hafner offered a friendly amendment to increase the levy by $500,000 to support code enforcement activities. The amendment was not accepted by Mata and therefore failed. She concurred that funding for code enforcement could come from other sources.

The city needs to be frugal, as the county and state are expecting to see shortfalls in their tax revenue and budgets this year, and those costs will likely result in higher expenses for the city, Mayor Jeff Lunde said. The economy is likely to suffer further as services like unemployment and rental assistance run out and families are further strained, he said.

“I’m still very worried that we haven’t really seen the COVID economy show up,” he said.

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