Council votes to bump property tax levy up

Emmitt B. Feldner
of The Review staff

PLYMOUTH – The city’s property tax levy is increasing for the first time since 2011.

The City Council, by a onevote margin, Tuesday added $100,000 to the tax levy for the 2017 city budget, increasing it to $4,108,042.

The change was recommended by the council’s Public Works and Utilities Committee in order to build up the city’s reserves for capital improvement projects.

Added to already-approved increases in garbage and recycling fees, City Administrator Brian Yerges told the council that the owner of a home assessed at $155,000 would see an increase of $38.77 on their 2017 property tax bill as a result.

Under the state’s revenue caps, the city could have raised its property tax levy up to $127,921, based on new construction and other facby tors, Yerges explained.

That had prompted the recommendation from the Public Works and Utilities Committee to add $100,000 to the city’s funds set aside for future big ticket projects.

The chairman of that committee, Alderman Jim Sedlacek, pointed to some high-cost items facing the city in the next halfdozen years or so.

While the city has just over $1 million in capital projects planned this year, that number jumps to more than $2.3 million in 2022 under the city’s current long-range plan.

“It’s not taking money now because we can, but so that six years from now we have enough money,” Sedlacek stated.

“That’s my concern,” he continued. “All of a sudden we’re going to have to make the jump somewhere, somehow.”

Sedlacek said building the reserves now would be a better plan than having to hike tax rates in one large jump or borrow to finance big-ticket items.

Personnel and Finance Committee chair Shawn Marcom responded that nearly half of the total projected in 2022 is for a new fire truck - $1.1 million.

“I think we can be judicious and put aside money for many years instead of getting to the year when we need a fire truck and asking where do we get $1.1 million,” Marcom said.

“I really believe we’ve been judicious in our budget planning and disciplined in our approach,” he continued. “I take a little pride in not increasing our tax levy.”

Marcom also stated that the request to increase the levy should have been raised earlier in the budget process, which he noted began more than half a year ago.

“The citizens of Plymouth are not getting off free,” with no tax levy increase, Alderman David Williams pointed out. He cited the half-percent county sales tax residents will be paying starting Jan. 1, along with the increased garbage and recycling fees.

While he said he believes in strong city services, Williams said, “I’m also a firm believer that we don’t raise taxes just because we can.”

As for future capital project costs, Williams stated, “We have ample time to support them without increasing the tax burden for the citizens of the city of Plymouth.”

Mayor Donald Pohlman noted that this year is the first year in a number of years that the city is able to increase the property tax levy based on new construction, which had been flat for a number of years.

“We can use that to build up our reserves,” he said. “We don’t want to get into the trap where we don’t raise taxes but borrow instead.”

After Marcom moved to adopt the budget without a levy increase, Sedlacek moved to amend the budget to up the levy by $100,000.

“We’ve been good stewards of the city budget since 2011,” Alderman John Nelson said at that point. “We’ve been keeping the budget and have done that a number of ways. But there comes a time when you kind of reach the bottom of the barrel. How far can you go? I think it’s time, in my mind, to bump up the levy a little bit.”

“I’m the last guy to kick the can down the road,” Marcom responded. “If I thought we were falling behind, I’d be the first to point it out.”

Sedlacek’s amendment was approved by a 4-3 vote, with Alderman Charles Hansen absent. Aldermen Jim Faller and Greg Hildebrand joined Sedlacek and Nelson in voting for it, with Jack Fernsler voting against it with Marcom and Williams.

The amended budget then passed by the same 4-3 vote.

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