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Farmington council approves 2014 preliminary levy, budget

After years of putting it off, the Farmington City Council effectively agreed to lay off a police officer when they approved the 2014 budget and tax levy Tuesday.

Even with that proposed $97,000 budget cut, though, many residents will still likely see an increase in the city's portion of their property taxes come next year.

Under the preliminary budget and tax levy approved this week, the city's budget will increase from $10.5 million in 2013, to $10.9 million next year. Likewise, the tax levy payable through residential properties will increase from $8.5 million this year to more than $8.7 million in 2014.

It's the first time council members have agreed to an increase in the tax levy since the 2011 levy was approved in 2010, city administrator David McKnight said. Council has worked in recent years to not increase the levy.

The proposed levy represents a 1.92 percent increase to the tax levy, McKnight said. The impact of that increase will vary between individual properties, he said, depending on the taxable market value of the home. The largest increase will be around $95, to homes with taxable market values of around $216,000. On the other hand, a homeowner with a property that has a taxable market value of $171,000 will see a decrease of about $142.

The increase is necessary to cover the expenses identified in the coming year's budget.

The budget includes capital improvement plans for both street construction projects and equipment and vehicles for the Farmington Fire Department — all of which have been pushed off for years, in an attempt to keep the tax levy at a minimal increase.

Some of the fire department's needs will be met through a Local Government Aid allocation of $245,329. The LGA money is a one-time allocation, so it is being used to cover needs that could be taken out of the general fund. Two new vehicles, equipment and repairs to Fire Station 1 account for approximately $181,000 of the LGA money.

The city of Farmington has not received LGA in a decade, McKnight noted. But the new allocation comes with strings attached, in that it eliminates the city's ability to increase the its operational levy, which puts dollars into the city's general fund.

That loss of control when it comes to local taxing authority does not sit well with council members. It's also what has forced the city to look at a number of budget cuts — including that of a police officer — for the upcoming year.

"I think this 2014 budget that's in place is a very sound, financial document that sets up Farmington into the future," McKnight said.

Still, council members are not completely happy with the budget and levy. Council member Christy Jo Fogarty criticized state lawmakers for the controls they put on LGA and the city's ability to increase the operational levy in 2014.

"I won't take anyone saying 'the city of Farmington cut a police officer,'" Fogarty said. "That was a decision (lawmakers) made. The state of Minnesota made this decision for us. The governor's office, the state legislature, and they should be ashamed of themselves for trying to take over local government's budgeting. We have plenty of residents who know exactly what we do up here, and they make the decisions of whether or not we're doing a good job and that's where it should be kept. At that local level."

The preliminary budget and levy will be forwarded to Dakota County. Now that it is approved, council members can still decrease the levy, but they cannot increase it. Final approval of the 2014 budget and levy is scheduled for the Dec. 2 council meeting.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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