Elk River city budgeting enters home stretch

•Elk River’s Energy City program is being threatened by budget cuts. Read more here.

by Joni Astrup
Associate editor
Elk River is chugging toward final approval of the city’s 2012 budget, and to say money is tight is an understatement.
“As we go into the home stretch of this budgeting cycle, I feel like we’re at the point where we’re turning over the couch cushions in City Hall, looking for the spare change,” Council Member Nick Zerwas said.
In a sign of just how much pennies are being pinched, council members debated Monday over whether to hire a fire department administrative assistant for 27.5 hours a week or 32.
At 32 hours a week the employee would be eligible for health insurance. The difference in cost to the city between 27.5 and the 32 hours would be $9,750 to $12,000, salary and benefits, depending on the insurance option selected.
“I’ve never in 13 years said no to the fire department but on this one I’m going to go for the low one,” Council Member Paul Motin said.
The council approved the position at 27.5 hours a week in a 3-2 vote, with Motin, Mayor John Dietz and Council Member Nick Zerwas voting for the lower hours.
Meanwhile, council members have approved a proposed maximum property tax levy for 2012 that is exactly the same as the one in 2011: $11,112,391. But it’s expected to be trimmed between now and December, when the council sets the 2012 budget and finalizes the levy.
Dietz said he won’t support an $11,112,391 levy when the final vote comes in December.
Estimates indicate that levy amount would result in a 3 percent increase in the tax rate. Dietz earlier proposed a plan to keep the tax rate flat.
The council is considering a variety of options to reduce the levy.