From left, Winona City Council members George Borzyskowski, Michelle Alexander, Pam Eyden, Mayor Mark Peterson, and council member Gerry Krage reviewed the 2018 budget earlier this year. “I’d like to see it lower,” Borzyskowski said.
by CHRIS ROGERS
Last week, the Winona City Council approved a seven-percent increase in next year’s property tax levy. It is the second largest increase in over a decade, only topped by the 10.5 percent hike in 2017. Earlier this fall, council members said they had hoped for a smaller tax hike in 2018. However, no one spoke at a public hearing on it, and the council voted unanimously for the final budget without debate.
“I wanted to see a smaller increase because we had a large one last year, but I realize we can’t get the services without it,” council member Michelle Alexander said in an interview this fall.
The property tax levy is the lump sum of total taxes the city divvies up among taxable properties based on property type and value. It will increase from $8.1 million this year to $8.7 million in 2018. The good news is that Winona’s tax base has been increasing in recent years, so there is more real estate value to bear the tax burden.
Most of the city’s budget is funded by fees and by the state and federal government. While the total budget will increase from $38.8 million to $40.6 million in 2018, there are not loads of new programs being launched. Winona City Manager Steve Sarvi said that inflationary costs were driving up expenses, in particular the cost of a “step” system that offers staff seniority pay and was approved by the council in years past. Sarvi said that city staff made cuts just to bring the property tax levy increase down to seven percent. “There’s no frills in this one,” City Council member Gerry Krage said in August.
The park and recreation department is receiving more tax levy funding in 2018 — up from $388,000 in 2017 to $563,000 in 2018 — and has budgeted to spend more on recreation programming employees — up from $424,000 in 2017 to $624,000 in 2018 — however, the department is also making cuts to administrative staff, consultants and other outsourced work, and facilities.
The Winona Police Department did not win a federal grant for two proposed community outreach officers, so its staffing levels are budgeted to remain stable in 2018.
Over a half-million dollars in local property taxes will go toward making one year’s payment on the $5 million the City Council borrowed this spring for improvements to Levee Park and Main Street, the Masonic Temple, and various other parks. The city plans to spend a total of $1.5 million on debt repayment in 2018, including another $500,000 payment on a bond for the purchase of fire trucks and other equipment in 2015, and a payment on a 2005 bond for the construction of the Pelzer Street overpass.
There are several big infrastructure projects planned for 2018, many of them using proceeds from a roughly $5-million sewer and water bond also issued this spring. The city plans to remodel the waste water treatment plant’s digester building at a cost of $1.8 million and replace and upgrade two sewer lift stations at a cost of $725,000. That includes the Vila Street lift station, and city leaders hope the project will resolve odor complaints. The city will also rebuild Hamilton Street from Broadway to Howard Street at a cost of $1.2 million, including new sewer and water mains. Most of that funding will come from the state. Another $850,000 will used for various street reconstruction projects across the city. In years past, the council has tried to spend $1 million per year on that program. The budget for park system capital improvements is relatively light in 2018, with $46,000 for the East End Recreation Center gym remodeling, $20,000 for Levee Park, and $5,000 for repairs to the Lake Park bandshell.