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Budget vote squeaks by

Discussion at the Red Wing City Council meeting on Dec. 11, 2017. Sarah Hansen / RiverTown Multimedia

The city budget passed on Monday, Dec. 11 with a narrow 4-3 vote. Council members continue to have strong feelings about the way they have been engaged in the decision-making process that led to the 2018 budget of $23.2 million and expressed a wish for more opportunities to have an open dialogue in the future.

Council member Peggy Rehder voiced an interest in supporting basic community needs "before we are building more trails and that kind of thing." Her comments came after a vote earlier in the meeting where council members approved forward movement of a grant application to Minnesota Department of Transportation that would support a riverfront trail segment from Barn Bluff to Colvill Park.

"I don't think you're going to find anybody that's going to say, 'Well I'm not moving to Red Wing because they don't have enough trails,'" Rehder said. "But you will find people who won't move to Red Wing because there's a lack of housing ... because there's a lack of child care ... because the school system is not providing."

City Council Administrator Kay Kuhlmann said that city staff needs more input from council members, citing that several budget meetings were held but generated no discussion among the group.

"You have an obligation to give us direction and what we're looking for is consensus," Kuhlman said. "When I hear from one council member, that gives me no direction. That's one person's opinion. And I'm not going to invest a ton of time and energy in that opinion if it's something that the rest are going to sort of disregard. So I really feel like you owe us something with some consensus on where you want us to go."

Her comments echoed those of Administrative Business Director Marshall Hallock from earlier in the evening. He said, "Should the council find that certain projects aren't warranted, staff would happy to take those out and let you know what the effect on the tax rate is moving forward.

"I've heard trails come up on numerous occasions. That's where staff could use more consensus amongst the city council as to whether or not we should continue to plan for those projects."

Hallock added that the city will carry a 70 percent fund balance, exceeding the 60 percent requirement, because large-scale maintenance, infrastructure and quality of life projects like these are planned out into the future. Rather than levy a high percentage all at once, the plan is to increase gradually and hold the money until it is needed.

The 2018 budget will increase property tax by 2.5 percent. That levy increase, combined with a projected increase in tax capacity, means an overall budget increase of $1,609,750 for next year.

The budget will be $23,205,223, up from approximately $21.6 million, which equates to a 7.5 percent increase.

Council members said they are eager to begin discussion of the 2019 budget in January, much sooner than usual.