September 15, 2023 at 11:23 a.m.
Lindstrom budget workshop leaves new police facility unresolved, for now
Lindstrom City Council members spent two hours last week in a workshop format trying to keep the levy hike for 2024 down to a single digit. A long awaited 10 year fiscal plan that lays out needs and projected revenue to Year 2034, shows that now is not too early to start addressing looming issues.
Cities must have preliminary budgets adopted by end of September and then they fine tune this amount until the final numbers are accepted in December, for pay 2024 property taxes. Council consensus was to set an approximately eight percent increase for now and go from there.
Lindstrom’s fund balance is less than what policy declares as preferred, so that’s a good place to start, City Administrator Dan Undem advised. The city balance is about 30 percent of annual expenses, and 40 would be better.
Another priority is the streets. Undem said the problem with Lindstrom, if you could call it a problem, is there are no big debt liabilities dropping off in coming years. Tax revenue used for per capita debt service is low relative to similar-sized cities, so there is little room for paid-off debt to be redirected into other items.
In order to put a few hundred thousand into Public Works to tackle streets, the city would be looking at a 13 percent increase in budget/ levy, which council wanted whittled down.
Council also made clear to staff that parks budgeting and operations need to be shifted to the oversight of Public Works.
Council members felt parks, culture and recreation as a line item, needs more detail provided, and a figurehead designated to take responsibility for activities.
Mayor Judy Chartrand said for now, council should identify concerns and allow staff to “scrub” areas of the budget and see what can be eliminated.
She brought up the future law enforcement facility, asking what council is willing to dedicate to this and to a lobbyist.
Council member David Waldoch noted there’s a $64,000 balance in the future facility column, as the city has been putting away funds to help move along a new police headquarters in Chisago City next to the fire hall. This could go toward a lobbying effort but he was questioning if there will even be a bonding bill in the 2024 legislative session.
Council member Brian Norelius said now that the 10 year fiscal plan is done, he hopes it will be enough to substantiate Lindstrom stepping back from the police project. He said the plan shows “we can’t afford it” without double-digit tax hikes the next several years.
Council repeatedly has debated not contributing and walking away from plans put in motion years ago to do the new public safety building.
Council member Waldoch stated the police commission at the time this new facility began to be considered, gave Lakes Area Police “anything they asked for.” The commission is made up of two from Chisago City and two from Lindstrom plus each city administrator attends the bi-monthly meetings.
Council member Norelius said the new facility space analysis and location study were flawed. He agreed with Waldoch that the commission was overly pro-law enforcement.
Council member Greg Krueger added his idea of providing for public safety doesn’t necessarily mean a new building. He’d also like to see a “satellite” police office in Lindstrom.
“These kind of deals fall apart all the time,” Krueger remarked.
Council member Linda Merkel pointed out that another year of a lobbyist in St. Paul working to secure state aid for the project will be interpreted that Lindstrom is all-in on this.
Norelius said he’d only support the facility moving forward with conditions and one is to re-write the 50-50 contract project funding
The next police commission meeting was set for yesterday (Sept. 13) and this issue was agreed to be presented to Chisago City. Norelius believes Lindstrom residents will be paying more for this project per person, than Chisago City will at the 50-50 split. But, “I am not ready to totally kill the project,” he added.