The Austin City Council continued work on the city’s budget and tax levy for 2024 with Administrative Services Director Tom Dankert during a work session following their regularly scheduled meeting at the Austin City Council chambers Tuesday evening.
Dankert stated to the council that after the initial budget review by the Mayor and City Council on August 21st, his office requested that the elected officials once again review their priorities for the 2024 budget in an effort to lower the proposed tax levy increase for 2024 of 11.18% to something lower. Dankert stated that he received six of the eight surveys back from the elected officials and went through the results at the work session, which included under staffing taking out the addition of a fire inspector for the Austin Fire Department, two seasonal employees at the J.C. Hormel Nature Center, and not adding five other proposed items, including a police administrative assistant, three new firefighters, a proactive housing inspector, a forestry/conservation officer and a .75 FTE library aide. The council did approve to allow Fire Chief Jim McCoy to apply for a grant to hire three new firefighters on a vote of 4-2, with councilmembers Mike Postma, Jason Baskin, Paul Fischer and Joyce Poshusta voting in favor, and councilmembers Jeff Austin and Geoff Baker voting against. Other reductions in capital outlay for 2024 included playground surface updates totaling $130,000, an HR market study totaling $20,000 and an outdoor fitness equipment match totaling $50,000, and in departmental budget changes, reducing the number of Pillars of the City of Austin yearly from three to two for a savings of $4,000. After a motion to remove $450,000 in contingency funds for 2024 failed on a vote of 4-3, with councilmembers Paul Fischer, Joyce Poshusta, Mike Postma and Mayor Steve King voting against, with Mayor King voting to break a 3-3 tie in the absence of councilwoman Laura Helle, and councilmembers Geoff Baker, Jason Baskin and Jeff Austin voting for the motion, the city’s tax levy increase for 2024 moving toward the council’s next meeting on September 18th is down to 9.93%. Cities in Minnesota need to approve and submit a proposed budget and tax levy to the state by September 30th. After that time, the proposed levy can be lowered, but not raised before the city’s final budget and tax levy for 2024 are approved by the council at their final meeting for 2023 in mid-December.
In other items of business during their work session, Public Works Director Steven Lang stated to the council that MnDOT continues to keep progressing on the Interstate 90 bridge corridor project, as construction of crossovers are underway between the Oakland Avenue West interchange and the Cedar River, and also between the 6th Street NE interchange and the railroad bridge. Work on the bridges is scheduled to begin in the spring of 2024. The council also approved a stop sign request on the service road at Oakland Avenue West and 22nd Street NW.
The next regularly scheduled meeting for the Austin City Council is scheduled for Monday, September 18th at 5:30 p.m. at the Austin City Council chambers.