Recent History – 2000
Nov. 29, 2000
By Mark Nielsen, Daily News Staff
Even with a record year in construction, Coun. Bob Gibbs painted a potentially gloomy picture when addressing 2001 budget forecasts during a town hall meeting Tuesday night.
Gibbs, in charge of the finance portfolio, said that the city is facing rising bills for utilities and policing which will make balancing a budget difficult.
“For seven years now, we’ve been able to hold the line, and in order to hold the line, you have to reduce services and streamline systems and I just don’t think there’s any room left,” Gibbs said.
Gibbs said that the city will be paying an extra $90,000 in policing costs in 2000 that had not been planned for, and indications are that the bill for policing will be up by $360,000 in 2001.
Based on the rule-of-thumb of every $60,000 in costs equalling a one-per-cent hike in taxes, Gibbs said the hike amounts to a six per cent hike in taxes.
In addition, he said that utility costs are rising rapidly thanks to the ongoing hikes in the price of natural gas, making the operation of city facilities that much more expensive.
On the bright side, Gibbs said that the city’s tax base has broadened thanks to new construction this year, which will help offset rising expenses. So far this year, permits for $15.3 million worth of taxable construction have been taken out, making 2000 the second most-productive year in the city. The record is $32 million, set in 1999.
But Mayor Blair Lekstrom said that there’s no need to worry yet, and feels confident that the city will be able to maintain services and hold the line on taxes. “Optimistically, I think we can still do it,” he said.
Gibbs acknowledged Lekstrom’s view: “The whole thing is going to be very interesting, to see how our revenues balance against our extra costs,” he said. “Blair’s optimistic and I’m not quite that optimistic.”
Slightly more than 25 people showed up for the meeting, held at the George Dawson Inn. For the first hour, council members gave presentations on their respective portfolios, and on where the city stands financially.
Both Coun. Bud Powell and Mayor Blair Lekstrom indicated that the municipal airport may not break even this year, and that tax revenue may have to be used to keep it afloat.
“Without an airport, economic development would be very much stymied, so we’re working hard to keep the airport viable and we would like to get it so that it pays its way,” Powell said. “But we realize it’s probably not going to. We’re probably going to have to dip into tax dollars to keep it viable.”
During the question period, onlookers raised concerns about safety at street crossings, the need for improved access for the handicapped, the depth of ditches in some parts of the city, preventing vandalism in the downtown core, and the extent to which street sweepers are being used.
Lekstrom said that despite the low turn-out, the meeting was still productive.