Time to talk taxation


City of Red Wing's annual Truth in Taxation meeting will be held 6 p.m. Monday, Dec. 4, in the City Hall council chambers. The public is invited to ask questions or offer input on the city's 2018 budget before the council approves it.

"What we're trying to accomplish in 2018 is one piece of a long-term plan that's part of an overall strategic plan that says, 'This is the community we want to live in and what we want to build.' The investments we're making now are very strategic to serve the city in the future," Administrator Kay Kuhlmann said.

The $78 million budget includes a steady $13 million to $14 million operating budget, business activities and capital. Kuhlmann said that the capital budget currently includes an abundance of property tax money from Xcel Energy, and while these funds are expected to depreciate over 15 years, Red Wing will use the current influx to reinvest in infrastructure that will keep the community strong for many years to come.

Kuhlmann still remembers when, about five years ago, Public Works Director Rick Moskwa reported that every city building had a leak. City Hall, the Fire Hall, the Sheldon Theatre and others were due for improvements. This set the priority level for reinvesting in current infrastructure and entering into new projects with caution.

"The money that we're borrowing for the new fire station will be paid off in 10 years," said Kuhlmann. "So we'll be operating debt free before the tax bubble expires."

Kuhlmann said that citizen attendance is often low at the Truth in Taxation public hearing, but she hopes this year will be an exception. Normally at the end of the meeting, the council votes in the new budget, but this year council members have elected to have a workshop immediately following the proceedings. They're looking to ask further questions and make final changes to the budget before voting. The public is welcome to listen and offer input during this final budget workshop as well as Truth in Taxation meeting.

Council members have expressed concern over the way budget workshops have been held in the past, and wish to have more opportunities to ask questions and generate a back-and-forth regarding the way money is spent in Red Wing. Council members indicated that the budget workshops are too short and their input has not been sought in a clear way.

Going forward, Kuhlmann hopes that the community will work to become more engaged in the budgeting process as well. She said that community engagement specialist Michelle Leise, who was hired in 2017, will lead this charge. In late January, the council will begin to dig into the 2019 budget and public input will be sought on this process as early as April 2018.

"The community survey was powerful from the standpoint of how do people feel about taxes," Kuhlmann said. "Many stated that they are getting a really good value or a good value for their money."

Feedback like this leads city staff to believe their plan is not out of line with what the public wants. However, with Leise on staff to help disseminate information and gather feedback, Kuhlmann and others look forward to having more citizens engaged and aware of the city's financial plans.

The public can attend the Truth in Taxation meeting on Monday, Dec. 6, in person or watch remotely on Chanel 6 starting at 6 p.m.