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Column: Good planning pays for city

Rosemount residents can now get a good idea of what the past few months of work in city government will mean for their property taxes next year. The city council approved the preliminary budget on Sept. 7. For almost all homeowners, the bill from the city is going down.

It's the second straight year of tax decreases, a result of several months of effort by the council and staff to trim what the city will spend in 2011. For the median value home in Rosemount ($212,600 next year), the city's share of property taxes will go down $64. Adding up this year and next year, the cut is $141, or almost 14 percent.

For both of those budgets, the city was able to cut expenses by paying off debt earlier than planned. But this year the city council also directed the staff to take a hard look at levels of services, and find ways to trim each department's budget by cutting back some of the things city government does. Those cuts will save the taxpayers more than $90,000 next year.

Other savings have resulted from the adoption of new office technology and making city buildings more energy efficient. For example, the city just received a grant to replace part of the heating system at the Steeple Center. We've also found ways to cut the city's costs for liability insurance without putting the public's money at risk.

Our approach to funding Rosemount city government continues to be conservative. Since 2007 we have budgeted on the assumption that we will not receive any state aid payments, and we are not counting on any state aid in 2011. We also assume that the soft economy will keep income down from permits for new construction next year. We are able to balance our budget for 2011 without deferring any needed maintenance or using reserve funds. Our credit rating has been upgraded twice in the last three years, and both times the ratings agency cited our low level of debt.

The savings and efficiencies we have found have allowed us to build a budget that can cope with other expenses, including a significant increase in the cost of health insurance, increased state pension plan costs for our employees and increases in electric and gas rates. City employees will also bear some of the burden of health and pension costs increases.

And although we have reduced some services, the most important services such as snowplowing and police patrol are unchanged and we have a good foundation to help avoid tax increases in the future. By using available grant funds such as to pave Akron Avenue, we are able to position the city to take advantage of the economic recovery when it comes. We remain committed to adding jobs and the tax base to Rosemount.

The budget passed this month is preliminary. Final action comes in December, but the amount charged in taxes cannot go up between now and then. The city council will take public comment before final action Dec. 7.

News reports make it clear that all cities are struggling to cope with the financial challenges they face. While many cities are holding the line on taxes and a few are increasing their tax levies, we feel fortunate that we are able to once again propose a significant decrease in the city tax burden without affecting vital services. We have taken another important step in meeting the city council's goal to "continue to develop and implement long term strategies to decrease the tax burden."