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Editorial: Levy set with eye to future

Local government will experience an infusion of cash starting in 2013, thanks to planned improvements to the Prairie Island nuclear plant.

A new steam generator for Unit 2 will increase the plant's value and therefore its share of the property tax bill for schools, city and county.

The Red Wing City Council saw an opportunity and took it.

Essentially, council members had two options:

One, add $1.1 million to the local property tax bill starting 2013 while knowing that citizens and most businesses won't see a spike in their property taxes. That's because Prairie Island nuclear plant will carry the load.

Two, hold the levy at roughly $13 million and give property owners some relief.

The only option council members considered seriously was raising the tax levy; they adopted the $14.1 million levy after Monday night's truth-in-taxation hearing. The reason: The city must address its aging infrastructure. Some projects already have been put off too long.

Fortunately, the nuclear plant will produce energy at a faster, more efficient rate during the 20-year extension to its licensing that begins next year. This is due to technological gains and better equipment. Xcel Energy plans to maximize its investment by reinvesting in the plant next autumn.

City officials hope to maximize that to citizens' benefit. The council has set out a five-year capital improvement plan designed to have streets, sewers, public buildings and more in top shape before Xcel retrofits or closes the nuclear plant in two decades -- or before the state changes the tax code and the opportunity is gone.

We agree with the city's approach.

The quandary, of course, is what happens with those additional levy dollars once the city addresses infrastructure.

Will the city lower property taxes? Given the steady increase from $10.5 million to $14.2 over several years, that seems doubtful.

Will the city prepare for the day Prairie Island is gone? City leaders might consider creating trusts for the Sheldon Theatre and Mississippi National Golf Links. Remember, the city didn't do so years ago when golf course rent flowed into coffers. Now the course's future is unclear.

Will the city overextend -- raise wages, expand programs, add infrastructure -- so citizens face mounting municipal bills in 20, 30 or 40 years but with no nuclear plant to fill the gap?

The current council has laid out a plan. A solid vision is forming. Members know all too well, however, that this council can't bind future councils. "Additional" revenue today becomes the norm tomorrow.

Citizens, remain vigilant. Don't be complacent simply because your property taxes hold steady. The truth is your tax bill may come due years down a long and crumbling road.