Austin City Council discusses 2023 budget, tax levy at Monday work session

The Austin City Council discussed the city’s budget for 2023 with Director of Administrative Services Tom Dankert during a work session following their regularly scheduled meeting Monday evening, and Dankert stated that he and City Administrator Craig Clark had met with various department heads and their various requests to come up with a proposed city budget for 2023.  Dankert went on to state to the council that in order to balance proposed expenditures with proposed revenues, a 7.05% increase from the 2022 levy, or $507,000 from just over $7.94 million in 2022 to $8.5 million would be required in 2023 to make the proposed budgets to balance.  Dankert went on to highlight various factors that affect the city’s budget, including staffing levels, department budgets, capital outlay, outside agency funding, and use of the city’s fund balance, and he also stated to the council that if a 7.05% levy increase would be approved by the council, for taxes payable in 2022, a residence in Austin at the city’s median value of $115,700 would see an annual tax increase of $34.00.  Dankert added that one of the factors in the proposed levy increase is a decrease in local government aid, or LGA funding from the state to its cities in 2023.  The issue was one amongst many that were left unresolved when the Minnesota legislature adjourned in May, and there has been no movement as of yet for a special session this summer.   

Council discussion on the city’s levy for 2023 centered on whether to move forward with the proposed 7.05% increase or to lower that figure, as multiple council members cited recently approved increases in the city’s sewer rates due to the wastewater treatment facility expansion and phosphorus reduction project as a reason to lower the proposed figure to ease the burden on the city’s taxpayers.  Some council members were looking to lower the proposed increase to the neighborhood of 5.9 to 6%, and some cited the possibility of taking a proposed position out of the city’s budget for next year that would add a building inspector to proactively go after property owners in Austin who are not taking care of their property appropriately as a possibility to lower the levy increase figure.  After further discussion, it was the consensus of the council to have Dankert, Clark and city department heads look to lower the proposed levy increase for 2023, and to discuss the matter further with the council at their next meeting on September 6th.