Ready for winter

The International Falls City Council Monday heard from a couple residents about the 2020 proposed levy and budget during it's required public meeting.

The council has proposed a levy that will collect $2.9 million - 5 percent and $139,572 more than in 2019 - from city property owners to support a $14 million budget.

The final levy and budget is expected to be adopted when the council meets Dec. 16 for its last regular meeting of the year.

Mayor Harley Droba told The Journal that eight people attended the city's Truth-in-Taxation hearing with Julie Melstrom, a former city councilor, and another person voicing concerns.

Melstrom told the council she's opposed to the city providing more funding than other entities in joint organizations. She pointed to the city providing more money in 2020 to Backus Community Center than Koochiching County will provide, Droba reported.

She also said she was opposed to the city's $12,000 to KCC-TV, the public educational channel, but Droba said a portion of the money comes from subscribers, so in 2020 will be funded the way it was intended.

Property owners sometimes confuse meetings held in June to discuss valuation and classifications of individual properties for assessment with the meetings conducted in December of each year by the county, cities and school districts.

The December meetings are hearings required by most governments to present the next year’s budget and tax levy to the public and are limited to discussion about the budget and tax levy; officials may only adjust the budget and levy if deemed appropriate after receiving public comment through the hearing process.

Droba said the council also heard from someone concerned about the valuation of their residence, but also voiced concern about why the city has not fixed 15th Street or city parking lots.

Fifteenth Street is among 85 blocks of streets in the city that are planned for repair in the next two years, Street Commissioner Ted Brokaw responded.

During the regular council meeting held prior to the hearing, Droba said a public education plan must be developed. The plan would describe roads that are slated for repair with money collected from the sales and use tax implemented in October. In addition, about $7.3 million is expected to be bonded for in 2020 to help pay for the repairs.

Droba said the huge city road plan and the improvements made to U.S. Highway 53 from Memorial Drive will make traveling through the city a challenge.

Meanwhile, city Administrator Ken Anderson provided great detail to the council about the city's past and current budgets and levies.

Among the details:

  • 2012 levy was a zero percent increase over 2011, and collected $2.1 million, and since has seen increase over previous years ranging from 2 percent in 2015 to 9 percent in 2018 and 2019.
  • Local government aid, which with property taxes and utility fees for sewer and water, make up the bulk of the city's revenues. LGA in 2019 was increased to levels comparable to those in 2002. The total LGA the city will receive in 2020 is $4.29 million "and represents the single most important revenue sources for the city of International Falls and funds both operations and capital improvements," Anderson said.
  • The city is debt free. The International Falls Economic Development Authority has outstanding bonds through 2031 to pay the costs of the Voyageurs National Park Headquarters and maintenance of the building. At a special IFEDA meeting before the council meeting, it was agreed to hire Northland Securities as financial advisers and seek competitive bond resale that will save the city nearly $500,000, noted Droba.

Council meeting

Councilors at the regular meeting:

  • Agreed to delay until May 1, similar to Koochiching County, a loan payment from the Koochiching Economic Development Authority for the 2017 cold box construction.
  • Tabled action on setting the 2020 regular council meeting schedule to get input from residents on whether they would be more inclined to attend meetings if they were conducted at a different time. The regular meetings now begin at 4:30 p.m.
  • Heard kudos from Droba to Police Chief Rich Mastin and fire, ambulance and rescue Chief Adam Mannausau who, with the Koochiching County Sheriff's Office, are holding a friendly competition called "guns and hoses" to see whether law officers or emergency response workers collect more money during bell ringing for the Salvation Army. Droba suggested the leader of the group that does not raise the most money would join him at a polar plunge, which both chiefs rejected.

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