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BRAINERD CITY COUNCIL Brainerd reduces tax levy by 6 percent

The Brainerd City Council Monday reduced its 2012 levy by $252,350, a 6 percent reduction.

The council approved the total 2012 levy at $3,953,486. Council member Bob Olson made the recommendation, which passed unanimously.

“I think it’s a victory for the taxpayers in Brainerd,” council president Mary Koep said. “Clearly our taxpayers win on this one.”

The total debt service levy was set at $1,499,661. The council was split five to two, with Koep and Olson opposed, on keeping the Housing and Redevelopment Authority levy at $132,078. Olson recommended the HRA levy be reduced by $20,000. Olson questioned what he called poor decisions made by the HRA board in the past, including the development of the Brainerd Oaks housing development. He also said the HRA board members were getting a $75 per day per diem to attend meetings, a total cost of $5,400 a year and the new HRA director received a $5,000 increase from what was paid to the former director. He also pointed out that HRA contributed $10,000 to the Healthy Communities Partnership and is subsidizing a private developer on South Sixth Street for $18,000. Council member Kelly Bevans said even if the council voted to reduce the HRA levy, that money would not go to reduce the debt service levy. Last year the HRA board decided to donate $10,000 to the city’s debt service payments, which included the debt accrued by the HRA’s failed Brainerd Oaks housing development.

Council member Dale Parks said echoed Bevans’ comments, adding that the HRA is trying to promote housing for low income individuals and serve as the redevelopment arm for the city. Council members Kevin Goedker and Lucy Nesheim also spoke in support of the HRA and the work they do. Council member Bonnie Cumberland said reducing the budget by $20,000 seemed to be too much. She said the HRA board should possibly reconsider paying $75 per meeting per diems. Ray Burnett, seated in the audience, attempted to speak in support of the HRA board, but council president Mary Koep refused to let him address the council. Koep said the public had the opportunity to speak earlier.

“This is not right. This is not right,” Burnett said. “I would like to respond to this nonsense. He (Olson) said things about the HRA board, nasty things about them...” Burnett then walked out of the meeting.

“I think the levy should stay the same,” said Bevans. “I think the HRA should pay some money but the past practice, and it has been successful, is we’ve kept the levy the same and I think then it lies in the hands of the HRA board. I think reducing the levy is a mistake. I am 100 percent in support of Mr. Olson’s argument but I don’t think the right way is to reduce the levy. I don’t think all the things that the HRA does can be summarized in a road project and construction project that didn’t work.”

A vote to pay $21,070, and an additional $3,100 out of the EDA, for membership dues to the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities failed to pass by a 4 to 3 vote, with Cumberland, Parks and Nesheim in favor. The council voted six to one, with Koep opposed, to pay $4,000 out of the EDA budget for the Initiative Foundation. Koep said there was not a “shred of evidence they have produced jobs.”

In a final 2012 budget amendment, the council voted 5 to 2, with Cumberland and Koep opposed, to not transfer $47,220 from the sanitary sewer fund and $92,160 from the storm sewer fund into the debt service fund.

JODIE TWEED may be reached at or 855-5858.