City taxes, sewer fees riseSuperior’s City Council on Wednesday night wrestled with money issues — taxes, sewage fees, storm water fees, pay for nonunion fire command staff. In many cases, the cost of city services is on the rise.
By: Shelley Nelson, Superior Telegram
Superior’s City Council on Wednesday night wrestled with money issues — taxes, sewage fees, storm water fees, pay for nonunion fire command staff.
In many cases, the cost of city services is on the rise.
However, nonunion fire command staff won’t be adding to the bills — the council referred a proposal to offset self-paid retirement costs with an increase in pay after Finance Director Jean Vito told councilors the additional costs would not be covered by the fire department budget.
Vito said while the department’s budget had been reconciled, higher than expected overtime costs have left the fire department with a budget that doesn’t balance and is running the risk of a deficit.
The council sent the proposal back to the Human Resources Committee for further review. Information Vito provided Wednesday night wasn’t available when the panel considered the proposal.
But there was no putting off taxes and sewer fees.
Taxes won’t increase as much as first anticipated after the council approved reducing the levy by $114,000 for 2013. However, taxpayers will still see a 2.8 percent increase in the city portion of their tax bill — about $18 per $100,000 of property value when the bills arrive in the mail in December.
That’s down from the anticipated $26 per $100,000 of property value approved by the council last month.
Councilor Dan Olson said he talked to 20 people about the proposed tax increase and 18 remarked the council was going to increase their taxes again. Only two thought it would be OK, Olson said, but both were city employees.
Before raising taxes, Councilor Bob Browne, said he would like to see a roundtable discussion with councilors, department managers and staff to come up with ways to save money.
However, Mayor Bruce Hagen questioned how the city would continue to provide city services and cope with rising costs without an increase in taxes.
“Government is not exempt from inflation,” the mayor said.
Hagen said he is in the process of analyzing city services and when the analysis is complete he plans to present proposals to the council to consider — proposals members of the council probably aren’t going to like — to make sure the city is providing only those services the private sector can’t provide.
Where city residents are likely to feel the pinch next year is in the increased sewage rates.
Effective Jan. 1, the rate climbs 19.88 percent to $7.43 per unit. The $5.50 flat fee would remain unchanged. The flat fee increased by nearly 64 percent this year, disproportionately effecting low-volume users with higher-than-average increases in 2012.
Superior businessman Kevin Peterson argued the city should eliminate the flat fee altogether because it affects landlords unfairly by increasing their costs disproportionately as well. He said a property owner who owns a four-plex with four water meters pays the fee four times while the owner of a four-plex with one meter is only subjected to it once.
He noted the council had just eliminated the flat fee for the city’s storm water fees, although the average homeowner will still pay $5.90 per month — the costs are simply being combined into a single fee, something Peterson said he expects to increase his costs because he owns multiple properties in the city.
Peterson said the council shouldn’t collect less money as a result of combining the flat and variable fees, but a more equitable system for paying those costs.
Prior to this year, Superior’s sanitary sewer rates remained unchanged at $4.96 per unit with a $2 monthly flat fee between January 2007 and December 2011.
The largest chunk of this year’s increase is a “catch up” to pay for the cost of maintenance, something that has been coming from reserve funding, Vito said.
“We got to bite the bullet,” Browne said, noting that’s the price for clean drinking water and a clean environment. “It doesn’t come cheap,” Browne said.