Special use permits now will require posted sign
RIVER FALLS – What can City of River Falls residents expect the city portion of their property tax bill to look like in 2022? Based on a $250,000 home, the 2022 projected portion of city taxes would be about $1,330, said City Administrator Scot Simpson at the Nov. 9 city council meeting.
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A City of River Falls resident’s tax money goes to several places: River Falls School District (39%), Pierce or St. Croix County (21%), City (28%), Tax Increment District (7%), and Chippewa Valley Technical College (4%).
The average home assessed value increased from $180,000 in 2020 to $250,000 in 2021, Simpon said, due to revaluation.
Last Tuesday, council members approved an ordinance approving the 2022 budget and tax levy. Because the city operates on a two-year fiscal plan, the ordinance also includes funds approved last year for 2021. No changes to the adopted budget are proposed at this time.
“You are reaffirming Year 2 of the two-year budget and adopting the levy for the second year,” Simpson said.
The total budget is $41,904,231, of which 17% is funded by general property taxes. No change was made to the levy amount of $7,135,000 adopted by the city council as part of the two-year budget plan. This amount is a 1.98% increase over last year.
In 2020, the city adopted its two-year budget for fiscal years 2021 and 2022. A two-year fiscal plan presents a framework for staff to plan and set goals under the city council’s direction, Simpson said. It also reduces staff time spent on the budgeting process and allows staff to instead focus on service delivery and improving city operations.
Simpson listed the 2021-22 budget themes as future financial sustainability, long-term strategic growth and continued investment in infrastructure, much of which is underground or at the wastewater treatment plant and not highly visible to the public, yet necessary for providing services.
The levy increase is equal to the net new construction, so for those who paid taxes last year, their bill should be about the same. The city is also maintaining a strong fund balance.
“We want to keep paying down debt, making sure we’re not extending the obligations of future generations beyond the useful life of those projects,” Simpson said.
Some new costs not originally planned for were increased staffing needs (additional hires in community development, IT and public works to meet service demands), cost of living adjustments (staff are receiving a 4% raise), and implementing a new comprehensive plan.
Despite the cost increases, no changes are proposed to the previously approved levy, Simpson reiterated. For example, the comprehensive plan will be paid for from cost savings incurred over the past two years. And the pay increase will not change the levy either.
“Both as a reflection for our appreciation for the flexibility and innovation shown over the course of the past couple years and also acknowledging that there is significant pressure on wages and their purchasing power based on inflation,” Simpson said about the 4% wage increase.
2022-26 Fiscal Plan
Simpson presented the 2022-26 Fiscal Plan, which combines financial forecasting with strategizing and helps the city to establish its priorities. It covers items such as capital projects, revenue increases or decreases, issuance of debt, and TID impacts. It helps predict the level of property tax revenue needed to find operations in future years.
As for revenues, assessed values are expected to increase by 1% per year, Simpson said. Shared revenues are anticipated to remain consistent beyond 2022. TIDs will repay the General Fund $2.3 million from 2023-26. A city wheel tax may be implemented beginning in 2023 and a street light utility is expected to be implemented by mid-2023.
Expenditures expected are wage increases by 4% per year in 2023-25 and 3% in 2026, Simpson detailed. Benefits are expected to increase by roughly 6% per year, while street maintenance will cost about $695,000 per year.
The property tax levy also supports River Falls Public Library services; 16% of the total levy in 2015 went to the library. The goal is to reach 10%, Simpson said, which should happen in 2025 when its annual budget is $850,000 and in 2026 ($895,000). For libraries in cities with 10,000 to 20,000 people, the average annual budget is about $600,000, he added.
“We’re significantly ahead of the average but I don’t think any of us ware looking for an average library,” Simpson said.
Changes in this fiscal plan compared to the previously proposed plan are:
•Implementation of a wheel tax in 2023 ($10 per registered vehicle). Money will be used to fund street maintenance.
•Implementation of a street light utility in 2023 (funded through fees), resulting in a reduction in General Fund expense in 2024 by $200,000
•Addition of two full-time employees in 2023
•Change of salary inflation from 3% to 4% for 2023-25
•Change in benefit inflation from 5% to 6%
•Decrease in Fire Sinking Fund contributions from $45,000 per year to $40,000 per year for 2023-35 and no expense in 2026
•Increase library levy in 2026 from $850,000 to $895,000
•Change timing of reserve fund This plan uses no American Rescue Plan Act funds, Simpson noted.
Under this plan, the total property tax levy increase is 5% per year (net 3% after growth). The estimated increase in assessed property values is 1% per year. In 2016, TID 5 will add about $24 million to the assessed property base, which is good news for taxpayers. The debt service levy is about 14% of the total levy and will remain under the 20% goal in this plan. Lastly, the levy for the library fund will remain static through 2025 and increase by $45,000 in 2026, which closely aligns with the 10% levy goal.
This plan is updated biannually and will be reviewed in July 2023. To view the plan, visit the city council’s Nov. 9 agenda packet. The council unanimously approved the 2022-26 fiscal plan.
Special use permits
After a failed amendment and discussion, the council voted unanimously to adopt an ordinance requiring an informational sign be physically posted at addresses undergoing a special use permit (SUP) application. The sign must be prominently displayed, visible from a public street and placed at least 10 days in advance of a scheduled Plan Commission meeting at which the SUP will be acted upon. The sign must indicate the place and time of the proposed meeting, identify the special use’s nature and all affected properties and provide contact information.
After state law changed in 2017 (Act 67), Plan Commission became the governmental body that approves SUPs, not City Council. During consideration of ordinance changes, the City Council requested the Plan Commission to come up with a plan to improve SUP public engagement and transparency.
The Plan Commission decided against adding another public hearing (there is already one required), so it brainstormed alternatives for public engagement. This sign requirement mimics an existing city ordinance that requires signs be posted prominently on properties under consideration for rezoning. Alderperson Sean Downing proposed an amendment, which would increase notification to affected property owners from 300 feet to 500 feet. Alderperson Ben Plunkett agreed with the proposal, but took issue with the ordinance’s language.
“We’re only noticing property owners, we’re not noticing residents, and as far as I recall in this city, you’re not required to own property to have a say in the government and what happens in your community,” Plunkett said. “We shouldn’t grant special rights to people based on ownership.”
Downing said increasing the distance for notification will increase public engagement. He also agreed with Plunkett’s language point. “People who live in homes that are renters and don’t own property absolutely deserve a say in their city government,” Downing said.
While Downing’s amendment failed 3-4, Plunkett proposed an additional amendment changing the language to say “notification of property owners and residents.” That motion passed unanimously, as did the ordinance change requiring signage.
•The council ratified the readjustment of wards and aldermanic districts following the 2020 Census.
•The council approved a change of agent for Tattersall Companies, LLC to Robin Lynne Mc-Donough, Hudson.
•The council approved a change of agent for Mainstreeter Bar & Grill LLC to Tim Bolan, Amery.
•The council approved a resolution outlining a weights and measures assessment schedule.
•A resolution approving writing off uncollectible accounts was approved. All Sports II owes $777.30 in delinquent property taxes from 2019.
•The council approved the expansion of the open container exemption for River Falls Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau’s River Dazzle event Friday, Nov. 25.
City of River Falls residents’ tax bills are divided into parts, with money going to different municipalities, broken down here. Graphic courtesy of City of River Falls