Caledonia tax increase capped at 5 percent

By Clay Schuldt
Caledonia Argus

The Caledonia City Council held a special meeting on Dec. 2 for the sole purpose of discussing the 2014 budget and levy.  The council agreed not to adopt the budget at this meeting but wished to ask questions before the Dec. 9 council meeting and levy public hearing.
The council first looked at the Ambulance Department budget. The council decided to delay the purchase of a second monitor for the ambulance until 2015, which takes $20,000 out of the budget. At a previous council meeting, Ambulance Director Mike Tornstrom proposed the city hire a part-time emergency medical technician assistant director/Police Department administrative assistant. By taking the monitor out of the budget, the Ambulance Department will have enough of a surplus to potentially hire a part-time employee for the position.
There was some discussion over whether this part-time position needed to be split with the Police Department. The reason for splitting the position between the two departments was to assist the police with an increase in paperwork.
Recently, a Minnesota judge ruled that the Caledonia Police Department, and all departments in the 3rd District, needed to provide transcripts of all audio and video evidence submitted. Chief of Police Kurt Zehnder admitted the department is still unsure how this will effect Caledonia, saying, “I am unsure what they are going to rule or how extensive this is going to get.”
In addition, the amount of evidence that needs to be transcribed could change on a week-by-week basis. The Police Department is looking to add a permanent part-time position, which will be an increase to the budget but should save Caledonia money by decreasing call time. Ultimately, the council decided to leave out the part-time secretary position.
According to the Bond Agreement for Winnebago Shared Use Path, the city will make no payments in 2014.  The first interest payment is due in 2015, and the first principal payment is in 2016.
The council looked favorably on purchasing a 1999 diesel truck to replace the city’s water truck, as the vehicle needs to be replaced next year and a used vehicle was available now.
The council was, however, more hesitant to buy a new lawn mower tractor. The mower is beginning to cost money to keep operational but still has trade-in value. The city is looking into possible resale options.
The council also discussed new sources of revenue.  The council did not include flood revenue from the Federal Emergency Management Agency in city funds. Administrator Ted Schoonover did not anticipate FEMA would send money until 2014. Council member Tom Murphy suggested the city look into recapturing money from the trailer associated with the meth lab bust last year. Murphy suggested placing an assessment on the owner of the land where the trailer was parked.
The council set the preliminary budget levy at 5 percent, meaning that while the final levy could be lower than 5 percent, it cannot be any higher. Even with a 5 percent increase, Caledonia has the second-lowest levy per capita in Houston County, with only Brownsville having a lower average.
The final 2014 levy will be set during the Monday, Dec. 9, meeting following the truth-in-taxation meeting.