by Dennis Dalman
A tax-rate increase of 1 percent was approved for 2021 by the Sartell City Council at its Truth in Taxation hearing Dec. 14.
After a lengthy, spirited conversation, council members decided to compromise and approved the tax increase as part of next year’s budget and levy. It was approved on a 4-0 vote. Council member Brady Andel was not at the meeting.
Sartell Finance Director Rob Voshell outlined the budget and levy proposal.
The total tax levy, collectible in 2021 is $7,393,045.
The long discussion by council members focused on efforts to keep any tax increase as low as possible. At one time, earlier this year, the preliminary budget called for a 2.35-percent tax increase. Since that time, city
staff and council managed to cut back on the budget, so a 1.75-percent increase was proposed at the beginning of the Nov. 14 meeting. That amount, however, did not sit well with council members Mike Chisum and Jeff Kolb. In a pandemic, they said, it is not wise to raise taxes on people who may be in a financial pinch due to difficulties brought about by the COVID-19 virus.
On the other hand, council member Tim Elness and Sartell Mayor Ryan Fitzthum said no tax increase would likely necessitate raising taxes in 2022 and that the city would have to cut back on some city services.
Fitzthum said the tax-rate increase in 2022 would most likely have to be as high as 4.8 percent – a result of “kicking the can down the road.”
Kolb, however, said the city should impose a spending freeze, eliminate any proposed projects not already budgeted for and then approve a budget with a flat tax rate or – better yet – a decreased tax rate.
Chisum said the city “outspent” its 2020 budget with projects that included financial help for a new hockey arena – the Scheels Athletic Complex project. Instead, Chisum said the city should have concentrated on public safety and infrastructure needs.
Sartell City Administrator Anna Gruber suggested the proposed 1.75-percent tax increase could be reduced to 1 percent. She said that by reducing the debt-service levy by 14 percent for Pinecone Road improvements (an amount of $55,000), the city could balance the budget for 2021 with just a 1-percent tax increase.
The four council members then agreed to compromise by approving just the 1-percent increase.