FARGO — For the first time since 2012, a Fargo mayor is asking for an increase in the city's share of the property tax bill.
The two-mill increase, if approved by the City Commission, would amount to about $21 per year on a $250,000 home.
The city mill levy, which has dropped steadily since 2012, would still be well below the city's levy limitation as well as what it was eight years ago. The city's share of a property tax bill is about 20 percent, with the school at about 50 percent, the county at 18 percent and the park district at 10 percent.
Mayor Tim Mahoney told the four city commissioners and a crowd of city staff and residents in City Hall on Tuesday, July 23, that his proposed 2020 general fund budget will hit the $100 million mark for the first time at $103.13 million — an increase of 5 percent. This year's budget is on track at $98.2 million.
"We are a big city now, we need to take care of things," Mahoney said.
In the past 10 years, he said there has been a 33 percent increase in drinking water daily consumption, 56 percent more miles of city streets, 86 percent more police service calls, 161 percent more fire service calls and 26 percent more public library collection usage.
He said the city was at a "different level," and that it's being watched regionally and even nationally as "a city to keep an eye on" as it grows and develops. He said the city is one of the fastest growing in the Midwest as the population has now reached about 124,000 and another 10,000 people could move here in the next 10 years.
Mahoney shared five goals, including making it a safe city for everyone, being a regional leader and working with other communities on services and issues, continuing to be nationally recognized for city service excellence, engaging more with residents and growing in a "smart way."
With the growth, Mahoney said on the expense side of the budget, the city administration went over the budget requests by the departments carefully and cut back on 53 requests for new city employees and in operating expenses.
In all, the mayor said he would like to add 13 employees citywide.
Mahoney said public safety is a top concern and that his proposal calls for four new police officers. He was happy to report that with the hiring of two more officers this week, the force was at full strength. He said since 2014, 43 police officers and support staff have been hired in the department with four firefighters and two investigators added in the fire department.
The other employees to add through the general fund would be two in the street department and a central garage mechanic.
In the non-general fund budget, the mayor is proposing six new employees — two each in the water department and at the Fargodome, one in forestry and one shared position in the stormwater and wastewater departments.
On top of that, he would like to provide pay raises to city employees to stay competitive in hiring and retaining workers. That is one of the reasons for the 5 percent increase in the city general fund budget.
Already, the city commission has approved substantial raises for police, firefighters and bus drivers at a cost for 2020 of about $1.43 million.
For other city employees, Mahoney is proposing a 2.5% raise as he said many companies in the city are offering 3% to 5% raises to workers. That would cost the city an additional $1.49 million.
Health insurance premiums are expected to rise 15 percent, adding another $800,000 to the general fund expenses.
In the separate capital expenses part of the budget, Mahoney said about $4.3 million in new equipment is needed, including street, police and fire department vehicle upgrades as well as for the information technology department and smaller amounts for other city divisions.
City commissioners, seated in front of the mayor as he spoke, had some questions and will have the chance to ask more after a public hearing and then final votes by the commission. A final budget must be adopted by Oct. 7.
Commissioner Tony Grindberg said he hoped the 2020 budget wouldn't include any mid-year adjustments next summer as was done this year in the pay increases for the police, firefighters and bus drivers. Mahoney said the plan is to stay away from that.
Commissioner Dave Piepkorn wondered if work would resume on water main replacements and arterial road work again this year after projects were delayed this year to work on how to possibly deal with special assessments in future years.
Mahoney said that didn't really affect the general fund, but that it was the intention to resume such work.
Commissioner Tony Gehrig wanted more details on the budget, and Finance Director Kent Costin said the 170-page document would likely be done by the end of the week with more details.
Commissioner John Strand added that he would like to see more long-term financial and facilities planning so the future looks more clear and decisions can be made easier.
Mahoney said the budget this year was one of the most complex as they tried to balance out all of the issues.
He stressed that the city will meet its goals on safety and service and that the "public expects us to do a good job."