Viewpoint: Have a voice in budget process

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The Rosemount City Council is about to take action on a key document for how the City operates to serve you: the budgets for 2018. You can still have a voice in this process during the public hearing that the Council will open next week.

City staffers began working on the budgets early this year, and my fellow Council members and I have been providing feedback to guide the process since the spring. The proposal is our best effort to balance services that citizens need and want with the demand to keep government affordable for our taxpayers.

The proposal up for discussion would increase Rosemount's total tax levy by 3.9 percent and the operating budget by 5.6 percent. The City's share of the property tax bill on the median-valued home — $260,450 — would increase $31 for the year.

One of many ways we try to gauge what's acceptable for an increase is to look at how we compare with our neighbors in Dakota County. In 2018, the amount of City taxes paid by a Rosemount resident would remain the fourth lowest among 11 cities based on preliminary figures. The City Council certainly acknowledges the need to remain competitive throughout the County, and City taxes are one measure of that.

We also take a longer-term view. From 2008 to 2018, our levy has gone up less than 4 percent. That's the smallest increase in the county by a wide margin. In fact, the City tax on the median-valued home would be $49 less next year than it was a decade ago. Our operating budget rose 20 percent in that timeframe, but taxes could stay low because of improved property values after the recession and because of revenues from the waste facility in Rosemount.

Even with savings, the proposal would provide more resources for public safety. It would invest more funds in efforts to continue Rosemount's economic development, because new private projects can help spread the tax burden. And it provides additional funding for parks and recreation.

To free up that money without adding to the tax bill, we are always looking for new economies. One introduced under these budgets would switch our Public Works Department from buying trucks to leasing them. The arrangement saves on upfront costs and on maintenance. We project it could save Rosemount taxpayers $440,000 over ten years. We also succeeded in negotiations to cut the cost of employee health insurance by $75,000.

All of that is up for discussion on Tuesday, Dec. 5, during the City Council meeting that starts at 7 p.m. in City Hall. We will conduct a public hearing on the budgets, and a final vote may be taken that night.

Those decisions about money are some of the most important, and sometimes most difficult, that we on the City Council must make each year. But we never lose sight of what's behind the numbers. City government can achieve what it does only through the strength of our community.

Strong ties between neighbors and through faith and civic groups keep Rosemount's quality of life high. Hard work gives our community a reputation for excellence. That was demonstrated again by our youth, who performed in the Rosemount High School Marching Band last week on the streets of Manhattan. Congratulations again to them on this great accomplishment!

We on the Council are proud of these achievements. And we are thankful for all who will contribute to our community during this holiday season and in the year ahead.