by Sarah Squires
The Winona City Council approved a final property tax levy increase of 3.6 percent Monday night, along with a .4 percent increase for the Port Authority.
The approval came with a vote of 5-1, with Council member Tim Breza voting against the increase. Council member Deb Salyards, who has also voiced opposition to the tax increase, wasn’t present at the meeting.
The tax increase is part of a nearly $32 million city budget for 2011, and represents a slight decline from the initial 4.6 percent increase from City Manager Eric Sorensen. Perhaps the biggest moving target for city finances next year rests with the state, which is facing a more than $6 billion deficit. Local state legislators who met with county officials last week said that cities and counties may face a 10 to 20 percent cut in state funding checks this summer. With the city of Winona banking on about $9 million from the state in 2011, changes may need to be made to the budget to absorb those potential cuts.
On Monday, the council approved a move that would delay payments for items in the 2011 budget that aren’t directly related to services until August, when the city will know more about state aid cuts.
Council members also said goodbye to retiring City Manager Eric Sorensen, City Attorney Rich Blahnik, and retiring City Council member Tim Breza, who served the city for a combined 75 years.
Sorensen thanked his staff members for the work they’ve done over the last 23 years. He cited a “dramatically increased tax base,” along with the local arts and culture movement as some of his proudest accomplishments with the city. “I’ve been very thankful that I was allowed to be part of that,” he said. “There’s a lot of envy out there in the midwest in terms of what we have, what we offer, what Winona is about.”
Sorensen said that the city will face some difficult times ahead, but that things will improve. “My view is in a couple years...the sun’s going to come out from behind the clouds again,” he said.
Council member George Borzyskowski thanked the retiring city leaders. “Rich [Blahnik], thank you very much for your service to the city,” he said. “My father served with you years ago, he said you were a very respectful and honest person. I share those thoughts.” And to Breza: “We’ve butted heads, we’ve shook hands, but when we walked out that door, it stayed in the council chambers.”
Council member Gerry Krage echoed the sentiments of thanks and farewell. “It’s been a good ride,” he said. “The city has been blessed by having the three of you guys working so well.”
Breza, who made his final motion to adjourn the meeting after decades with the council, said he felt honored. “Thank you for the trust that you’ve put in me to do the right thing,” he said to voters. “Each ballot I’ve cast in your behalf. Thank you all for letting me serve you.”