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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Tower Council votes to keep levy unchanged

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 12/16/20

TOWER— The city council, here, on Monday, gave final approval to a 2021 levy of $394,761, representing no increase over the current year’s property tax assessment. At the same time, the …

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Tower Council votes to keep levy unchanged


TOWER— The city council, here, on Monday, gave final approval to a 2021 levy of $394,761, representing no increase over the current year’s property tax assessment. At the same time, the council approved a 2021 budget that includes $3.94 million in revenue and total expenditures of $3.575 million.
“There are lots of different ways that the city of Tower gets revenue and the property tax is only one part of it,” said Tower Clerk-Treasurer Victoria Ranua, noting that the property tax levy is set to generate only about ten percent of the city’s expected revenues in 2021. Grants, state and county aids, fees for services, and leases make up the bulk of city revenue each year.
The budget includes $648,000 in estimated revenue in the city’s general fund, which is identical to expenditures. The budget also includes $787,289 for streets, a figure that reflects the city’s plan to undertake the Pine Street reconstruction next year. Ranua said that spending will be contingent on the city identifying a local match for $472,000 in state local road improvement funds that are currently earmarked for the project.
Other major planned expenditures include $40,000 for a new police vehicle, $53,805 as part of retiring the city’s loan from the League of Minnesota Cities, and $600,000 for the second phase of trail work around the harbor. The harbor work is slated to be funded by a state grant that remains up in the air after significant mishandling of the first phase of the project by the prior city administration. Ranua noted that if the grant funds, which will now require additional legislative approval, aren’t approved, the project won’t go forward at this time.
The city likely won’t have the expense of purchasing a new ambulance after taking delivery of a new vehicle earlier this year.
“I know there’s a lot of work that’s gone into this, and it has taken a little longer, but I think the end result is worth it,” said Mayor Orlyn Kringstad.
Ranua said the need to significantly restructure the city’s budget is what took time. With a better budget structure in place, Ranua said the city can begin to address its lack of reserves. She said financial officers recommend that cities should have three months of operating costs in reserve. “We just don’t have that right now, but we can now work towards it,” she said.
Councilor Kevin Norby asked how well the city’s spending this year tracked with its budget. “In some areas we’re fine,” said Ranua. “In other areas, like sewer, we needed more. We also had some major repairs to aging equipment. But there was enough buffer in the system to allow for those.”
Councilor Dave Setterberg credited Ranua with keeping close tabs on the city’s basic operational costs. “Vic’s been doing a great job of tracking electric use,” he said. “She was able to knock down the electric bill by about $2,000.”
Ranua said using the city’s programmable thermostat helped reduce heating costs, both at city hall and the civic center. “We also saved several thousand dollars on office supplies,” she said.
In other business, the council, after considerable discussion, approved a three-percent increase in Ranua’s salary, beginning on Jan. 1. The council action, motioned by Councilor Joe Morin and approved unanimously, was necessary because Ranua is no longer covered under a union contract and it had been 14 months since she started with the city. Even with the pay raise, which puts her annual salary at $53,086, she continues to earn over three thousand dollars less than the former clerk-treasurer at the time of her termination in 2019.
The council also voted to continue a benefits package that includes about $13,000 toward a family health insurance package, although Setterberg said the council will likely still need to address other issues about Ranua’s benefits in the future. He made a brief reference to the fact that Ranua, in terms of total wage compensation, earns less than any other full-time city staff person, which impacts other related benefits, like PERA. Unionized city staff receive $12,000 annually in what’s called “longevity pay,” which generally is designed to help pay for health coverage. But because it’s considered part of their wage, unionized workers receive additional PERA. In Ranua’s case, her benefits aren’t considered part of her wages, so she doesn’t receive credit for that compensation under the PERA system.
Ranua’s pay raise came in the wake of a performance review, conducted by Setterberg and Norby, in which they determined she is “meeting expectations.”
In other action, the council:
• Gave approval to holding two regular meetings per month in an effort to reduce the length of council meetings. Ranua asked if it would be possible to hold meetings on a different day than Monday. She said Monday meetings generally mean she loses one off-day the weekend prior in order to complete meeting prep. Kringstad said she should check with the city attorney to see if he is available any other evenings during the week.
• Approved using a new credit card processing company for Hoodoo Point Campground and, potentially, for online bill paying for city utility accounts. Ranua told the council that the current processor had been steadily increasing fees and was prone to overcharging customers, which requires staff time to correct. “If the system could also work for online utility payments, I would be in favor of that,” said Kringstad. “I pay almost all of my bills online.”
• Approved a household income survey documenting that 63.1 percent of households in Tower are considered low-moderate income, which will qualify the city for CDBG funding possibilities.