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Baxter City Council: Taxes, trucks and trails highlight budget talks

Members of the Baxter City Council, alongside city staff, take part in budget talks to hash out the city financials in preparation for 2019. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch1 / 3
A line graph displays the trajectory of tax levies, year to year, by the city of Baxter between 2011 to 2019. Line Graph / City of Baxter2 / 3
A pie chart displays different property classifications and their projected percentages for the city of Baxter's total estimated market value by classification for 2019. Graphic / City of Baxter 3 / 3

BAXTER—For the city of Baxter, it's time to get into the nuts and bolts of it all—with budget talks, budget talks and more budget talks on the docket as the city hashes out its financials.

All in all, Finance Director Jeremy Vacinek said during a workshop Tuesday, Aug. 28, Baxter's current estimated market value for 2018 is $983,333,300 compared to 2017's $950,013,800—56 percent in residential homestead and non-homestead properties, 34 percent in commercial/industrial properties, 8 percent in apartment properties and 2 percent in "other," which indicates relative growth across the board and no significant changes in the city's makeup.

Estimated net tax capacity from new properties account for an increase of $173,147, Vacinek noted, or about $87,115 in additional tax revenue with the tax capacity rate.

Going into 2019, the city of Baxter is proposing to increase the property tax levy from $6,003,400 to $6,440,600 (a $437,200 hike, or 7.28 percent). This increase is penciled entirely for the operating levy, while the debt service levy portion of the budget will see no changes compared to 2018. Accounting for fees, fines, gifts and other forms of revenue, the city's total general fund budget sits at $6,522,300.

Much of the the allocations were legalistic in nature—essentially, paying for expenditures associated with everything from upgrading parks to be Americans with Disabilities Act compliant and property liability insurance costs, to legal fees stemming from the Brainerd Public Utilities annexation case with the city of Brainerd.

Then, of course, there are many eyes—and many dollars—on the bounty of trails throughout the Baxter area, with a number of allocations going to upkeep, repair, expansion, management and other expenditures.

The city is setting aside $11,400 for Heartland Animal Rescue Team animal control—a service the city has traditionally backed, Police Chief Jim Exsted said, and a way to free up the 16 officers in the Baxter Police Department, particularly with a new resource office for Forestview Middle School in mind. Without these services, a delegated officer typically responds to about one animal-control call a day and costs $9,600 per year.

The city is also projecting to allocate—$48,000, plus an additional $28,000 from enterprise funds—to add on 12,000 square feet of storage space to the Public Works Facility. This addition to the site's mezzanine is based in growing congestion and lack of available storage space, Public Works Director Trevor Walter said, which hampers vehicles going in and out.

"It's the growing pains," Walter said. "The building's going to be 12 years old. (The addition) should take us to 2027."

Coming with a price tag of $105,000, the city also plans to allocate funds for a street snowblower.

"That's a big capital expenditure," City Administrator Brad Chapulis observed.

He noted he's in favor of leasing a snowblower to determine if it will properly address particular areas of the city, such as roundabouts and adjoining roadways near Cub Foods where there are very close quarters, before forking over that much money for an expensive piece of equipment that has so many question marks surrounding its effectiveness.

"It's new to us," Walter admitted. "It's scaring (Public Works Supervisor) Kevin (Cassidy) and I, I ain't gonna lie."

In addition to that, the city of Baxter is allocating funds to:

• $17,510 to The Center (which had been the subject of a $20,000 request or 17.6 percent increase in funding from 2018).

• $15,000 for city hall building maintenance.

• $12,700 for the city's new wellness program for its employees.

• $46,600 for prosecuting attorney, an increase of $19,600 and $18,00 for the city attorney and specialized council—much of it in regard to the BPU annexation case earlier this year.

• $65,000 for police department vehicles, with the expectation that a cruiser will be replaced this year.

• $16,500 to resurface Southdale Park and Loren Thompson Park playgrounds with wood chips, which enable wheelchair-bound pedestrians to access these sites.

• $12,100 for an ADA-compliant picnic table, bike rack, six benches and four garbage receptacles for various city parks.

• $25,000 for initial planning of Mississippi Overlook Park.

• $30,00 for Oakwood Trail services, which include a feasibility study, layout planning and other professional contracts.

• $382,700 to Visit Brainerd, the official marketing organization for Brainerd and Baxter using revenues from the lodging tax to promote the area.

• $40,000 for maintenance and repair of trails, including $5,000 for Firewood Trail patch and $5,000 for Grand Oaks to Inglewood Trail patch work.

Looking ahead

• 5:30 p.m., Sept. 4, the council will convene to discuss the 2019 governmental fund budget.

• 7 p.m., Sept. 18, the council will approve its preliminary governmental fund budget and levy—the levy can be decreased at this point, but not increased. The levy must be certified to Crow Wing County and the state of Minnesota by Sept. 30.

• 6 p.m., Oct. 30, the council will take part in a work session to review the proposed budget and five-year capital improvement plan, including introduction of the enterprise fund budgets.

• 5:30 p.m., Nov. 7, the council will convene to review the proposed budget again.

• 6 p.m., Dec. 3, the council will conduct an informational meeting to review the 2019 budget and property tax levy. This meeting will include time for public input.

• 7 p.m., Dec. 4, the council will vote to adopt a finalized version of the 2019 budget, levy and five-year capital improvement plan.