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Wanamingo council agrees to 39 percent levy hike

WANAMINGO -- The City Council here unanimously agreed to a 39 percent hike to the city levy on Monday, in a move officials say will curb the city's growing debt within three years.

A tentative agreement in late July to raise the levy won approval Monday as the city adopted its preliminary 2011 budget.

If approved again in November, the budget would raise the city's 2011 levy from $431,120 to $600,000.

"We certainly don't like that we have to increase it by that much," said council member Larry VanDeWalker. "It was a very difficult decision."

City officials say the increase will peak next year before falling back to normal levels in two to three years.

The tax hike was needed to bring the city's budget situation under control after nearly a decade of deficit spending, City Administrator Michael Boulton said.

Its general fund is in the hole by more than $150,000, the result, he said, of a variety of issues that came to a head this year, from a loss of state aid dollars to the costly transfer of its financially troubled senior living center in November.

If approved, the increase will have a direct impact on the pocketbooks of Wanamingo residents and business owners. A person owning a home worth $100,000 would face an annual property tax increase of roughly $160 under the plan, according to an estimate given by Goodhue County Assessor Peggy Trebil.

Boulton said that considering the scale of the increase, he was surprised that more city residents attend Monday's meeting. City officials had anticipated moving the meeting from the council chambers to the more spacious community center to accommodate what they thought would be a large crowd.

The way it turned out, the meeting went on as normal.

"Not a single person who isn't normally there showed up," he said.

VanDeWalker said the city had worked in recent weeks to get the word out about the tax increase and what it means for the city. He says he hasn't received any calls from constituents about the issue.

"Hopefully that means they understand what the city is going through," he said.

The council will take up the preliminary budget again at its meeting in November. A final budget will be brought up for approval in December.