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Budget debate dwells on cash reserves

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Red Wing, 55066
Red Wing Minnesota 2760 North Service Drive / P.O. Box 15 55066

ELLSWORTH -- There is a contradiction when it comes to the Ellsworth Village's 2009 budget.

On one hand, the village is spending less in 2009 than it did in 2008 -- about 1.92 percent less.

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On the other hand, the Village Board plans on increasing property taxes by 2 percent after not raising the levy the past two years.

This increase despite the decrease in spending gets to the heart of the debate over the budget: How much money should the village keep in cash reserves?

The budget hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. Dec. 1 in the Village Hall during the Ellsworth Village Board's regular monthly meeting.

Citizens can review the budget at the clerk's office in the Village Hall from 8 a.m. to 4:30 Monday through Friday.

"The feeling of many of the board members and village officials is that they don't want to take out as much from reserves as we did last year," said Peggy Nelson, village clerk/treasurer.

Taxes and intergovernmental revenues make the bulk of the revenues in the Ellsworth budget, nearly $2 million combined.

The economic downturn has begun to impact the village. In 2007, there were 20 building permits for new homes. So far this year. only three have been issued.

"Obviously the fewer homes that are being built or the fewer business projects going into Crossing Meadows, the less money in impact fees, building fees coming in, not to mention money you're not bringing in," Nelson said.

How big the rainy day fund should be is dividing board members. Trustees Neil Gulbranson and Dave Deiss are both members of the board's Finance Committee. They have not made up their minds on how they'll vote on final approval of the budget.

Deiss abstained from voting for it in committee and is right now leaning against; Gulbranson, who voted for the budget in committee, is still leaning in favor of it.

"I think we're the only community in the area that froze its rate once, much less twice," Gulbranson said. "The departments have been very frugal in their budgeting."

Deiss said some adjustments to the budget have answered questions that led him to abstain from the budget vote in committee. But he feels uneasy about supporting any kind of levy increase during a recession.

"We need to take some of the pain that the public is feeling right now," Deiss said. "We didn't spend all that we budgeted for in 2008 and to ask for more that might again wind up as excess revenue, well I have a problem with it."

Gulbranson and Deiss agreed the village needs to find the proper balance of enough money for emergencies and shortfalls while not burdening taxpayers. Both feel the village needs to consult outside financial experts find that balance.

Deiss also feels the board needs more discussion about the budget throughout the year.

"We get quarterly reports on budget numbers but only two times do we talk about the budget and that's during the middle of the year and right at the end," Deiss said.

The village departments and budget areas that saw funding increases are public safety, 15.412 percent; public works, 5.52 percent; and culture, recreation and education, 8.24 percent.

All other departments and areas were down. The biggest decreases were general government, down 32.96 percent; capital outlay, 90.82 percent; and debt service, down 12.82 percent.

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