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Farmington property taxes to go up in 2017

For the fourth year in a row, the Farmington City Council has voted to raise property taxes.

In 2017, taxes could go up 4.94 percent or $52.72 annually for the average household. The council has until Dec. 5 to finalize the amount.

The decision came at Tuesday night's council meeting, with member Douglas Bonar giving the one dissenting vote. He said he would not support more than a 4.15 percent increase.

"The money's already been spent," Mayor Todd Larson said, referring to new hires and projects the council approved for 2017.

Larson added that the council had cut several items from the staff's proposed budget to get the increase down under five percent, such as a fire marshall position, a full time building inspector, another fire truck and needed maintenance on city snow plows. They also cut $7,000 from the Heritage Preservation Commission, whose members showed up and gave an impassioned plea to get the money reinstated.

"There's a lot of things the city wants," Larson said. "But it's just going to have to wait."

Council voted to increase taxes by 1.92 percent in 2014, by 4.96 percent in 2015 and by 4.9 percent in 2016.

Raising property taxes is not something the city residents get to vote on. The state legislature authorizes Minnesota cities to levy and collect taxes on property. The city must report any tax increases to the county.

The change will be reflected in the Truth in Taxation notices the county mails to taxpayers in early November.

The city also has a referendum question on the November election ballot asking for $10 to $12.3 million to develop an outdoor aquatic facility, ball fields, athletic fields, more bike trails, more community play areas and an outdoor refrigerated ice hockey rink.

To remind residents of this possibility, the city will include the following statement on the Truth in Taxation notice: "If the referendum was approved by the voters, the city approved property tax for 2017 may be higher than the proposed amount shown on this notice."

Farmington gets about 74 percent of its annual revenue from property taxes. The city has about $3 million in debt that it won't get a handle on until 2023 when purchases can again be made in cash instead of on loan.

City Administrator David McKnight encouraged the council to stay the course in paying down the debt.

"For the first time in a long time, you're going to be able to pay $800,000 for an $800,000 vehicle," he said, instead of $1 million due to interest payments.

Councilman Terry Donnelly said the tax increase is necessary.

"When you consider what percentage of the budget is the police, fire and debt, that leaves so little for us to work with," he said. "It's a hard thing. Nobody wants to raise anybody's taxes. It's not something that we take lightly."

Of the proposed $12.3 million, $4.3 million goes to police and $1.1 million goes to fire department.

Residents will be able to offer input at a public meeting at 7 p.m. Dec. 5 at city hall. The council can lower the levy but not increase it once it's reported to the county.