Burnsville taxpayers gain ally on City Council

Burnsville taxpayers gain ally on City Council

August 25, 2017

The pattern is well-established.  When expenditures don’t fit within their budget, government officials grasp for more revenue.  A tax-grab is nearly always their first option.

Not so fast, says LPMNer Cara Schulz.  As someone who understands what it’s like to hold gainful employment, she knows that residents “don’t get to just get more money from their employer” when they face expenses.  Nor should city officials expect this from the city’s residents.

An outsider elected to Burnsville’s City Council in 2016, Libertarian City Councilor Cara Schulz is a dissenter from the politics-as-usual that had been the norm before her election.  She is gaining a strong voice as an advocate for her hard-working neighbors, as reported in an article by the Sun Post.

Libertarian City Councilor Cara Schulz

“I am not in favor of raising property taxes, period”, Ms Schulz said.

As usual, entrenched officials are defending each other while offering a typical excuse. “We have really looked at all of the low-hanging fruit”, said Burnsville City Manager Heather Johnston in attempting to justify the proposed tax hike.

She’s wrong.  Perhaps Ms Johnston realizes that her own job could be in jeopardy, as already happened in Oak Grove which eliminated its City Manager position to help give its own residents an 18% tax cut.

We in the LPMN salute Ms Schulz for fighting the good fight against steadily encroaching government, and for defending the ability of her neighbors to keep their own earnings!

The Sun Post’s article is reproduced below:

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Council debates taxes and spending
Support for maximum levy increase of 3.6 percent

Published August 16, 2017 at 4:33 pm

Burnsville City Council members sharply debated tax and spending measures Aug. 15 in a prelude to setting next year’s tax levy.

Four of five said they’d back at least a 3.6 percent increase in the proposed city levy on Sept. 5, when the council adopts a maximum levy printed on property-tax statements. The council could reduce but not increase that figure when it votes Dec. 5 on the 2018 budget and levy.

Council Member Cara Schulz rejected any levy increase, saying that taxpayers “don’t get to just get more money from their employer” when “we take more money from them.”

A 3.6 percent increase is needed to maintain city services, cover wage and benefit increases and stay on track with planned spending increases such as $50,000 contributions to the infrastructure and emerald ash borer funds, according to city staff.

The increase would raise revenue by an estimated $1.19 million and raise city taxes on a median-valued Burnsville home ($238,200) by about $32. City taxes would fall by about $243 on $1 million in commercial property, which is growing in value much slower than residential property.

The amounts council members debated are fairly small in the context of a projected $33.9 million levy, but the debate indicated where they might draw the line on taxes and services.

Mayor Elizabeth Kautz floated a larger increase of 4.3 percent, which Council Member Dan Gustafson also supported. The extra tax money would cover $160,000 for a second fire inspector and a $75,000 increase in the Economic Development Authority levy. State law allows a $1.1 million levy; the city now levies $617,500, with a $25,000 increase already planned for 2018.

Amid growing concern about the condition of some Burnsville hotels, the position would allow the city to reclaim fire inspections of the properties, which it relinquished when an inspector position was cut in 2009 and not refilled.

The state now does the inspections every three years and inspects only a fraction of the rooms. A city inspector would allow annual inspections of all rooms and common areas, according to the Fire Department.

Gustafson, who originally proposed restoring the position, and Kautz say some properties badly need the oversight.

“It doesn’t look good,” the mayor said during the Aug. 15 council work session. “Have you all gone and looked in the comments section on some of these properties?”

The fire inspector is one of the positions the city cut during the Great Recession, she said. The city is still “backfilling” services lost to those cuts, she said. Some hotel owners are asking for the stepped-up inspections, she said.

Council Member Bill Coughlin said he backs the 3.6 percent maximum levy increase, but no more.

“I wish we could afford it,” he said of the inspector position. “I don’t believe we can, so I’m not for it.”

Council Member Dan Kealey said the position is a high priority — high enough that the city can find other ways to fund it, whether joining forces between building and fire inspections or cutting other spending.

“I know there are ways that we can fund that without just throwing on more tax,” Kealey said.

Schulz, who took office this year, opposed even the 3.6 percent increase, saying she’s talked to residents who are “greatly affected” by property tax increases.

“I am not in favor of raising property taxes, period,” she said.

Coughlin said such a hard line would lead to police layoffs, which he won’t accept.

Schulz suggested that city staffers, who know the operation best, could suggest the spending cuts needed to hold down taxes. Staffers resisted the suggestion.

“You’ve heard me say this before,” City Manager Heather Johnston said, “but we have really looked at all of the low-hanging fruit.”

“I know if staff could produce it,” Coughlin said, “they’d produce it in a New York minute.”

The city’s departments are working on budget proposals, trying to balance cost-saving efficiencies with cost pressures, said Kelly Strey, finance director.

A “majority of the increases are related to the cost of personnel services,” Strey said.

It’s not unusual for the staff to shave a little from the maximum levy figure by the time the council votes on the budget and levy in December.

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Concerned about the expansion of government control and the erosion of individual liberty?  Please consider joining and becoming active with the Libertarian Party of Minnesota.  Libertarians support liberty on all issues, all the time!  Libertarianism is a philosophical and political movement to promote personal freedom, strong civil liberties, a genuinely free marketplace, and peace.

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