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Brainerd City Council: Council sets prelim. 2019 levy at 6%

To create some wiggle room in the budget, Brainerd City Council members set the city's preliminary 2019 levy at a 6 percent increase from 2018. The final levy--which the council will set in December--can be lower, but not higher, than the prelimi...

Brainerd Finance Director Connie Hillman explains different financial scenarios for council members to take into account before setting a preliminary levy Monday, Sept. 17. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch
Brainerd Finance Director Connie Hillman explains different financial scenarios for council members to take into account before setting a preliminary levy Monday, Sept. 17. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

To create some wiggle room in the budget, Brainerd City Council members set the city's preliminary 2019 levy at a 6 percent increase from 2018.

The final levy-which the council will set in December-can be lower, but not higher, than the preliminary number, which comes to $5,895,572.

Council members Gabe Johnson and Sue Hilgart opposed the 6 percent levy and instead wanted to set the number at 2.8 percent.

Estimates presented by City Administrator Cassandra Torstenson and Finance Director Connie Hillman show a likely increase in the estimated market value and tax capacity for 2019, which would mean a 2.8 or 3 percent levy increase would leave the tax rate relatively unchanged. But how much the estimated market value and tax capacities increase is still up in the air.

"I'm concerned about a significant majority of people in Brainerd that are on a fixed income," Hilgart said. "It isn't just about the amount of money it takes to fix a building or fix a street. We need to be prudent with how we manage that money. That we have to recognize that the source of that money has an impact across our town, and I'm really concerned in driving up that property tax bill."

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The rest of the council, while showing some support for a 2.8 percent increase in the final levy, did not think such a low preliminary levy would give much room for discussion.

Though ultimately voting for the 6 percent increase, council member Dave Badeaux noted he would like to see a final levy around 2.8 or 3 percent.

Council member Kevin Stunek said the council should be aggressive now, as it has the ability to lower the final levy in December. Mayor Ed Menk warned council members settling on too low of a number now could result in a drastic levy increase in the future when projects-like government facilities updates-come to fruition.

"The facilities study shows we have a big bill ahead of us. And if we kick the can down ... we may be looking at a 15 percent levy increase down the road. That will be pretty hard to swallow," Menk said, suggesting a preliminary levy as high as 10 percent.

Stunek and Badeaux, along with council members Janice Lambert, Kelly Bevans and Dave Pritschet, ultimately agreed to the 6 percent increase, with Johnson and Hilgart opposed.

Hillman said she will have final numbers on the estimated market value and tax capacity increases before council members vote on the final levy.

The council will host a public hearing on the levy at 6 p.m. Monday, Dec. 10, before final adoption.

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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