5 percent prelim levy increase approved in Cambridge

Council will continue to work to decrease levy by December

Noting the 2013 budget is still a “work in progress,” the Cambridge City Council approved a 5 percent preliminary levy increase during its council meeting Tuesday, Sept. 4.

Director of Finance Caroline Moe presented the preliminary 2013 levy and preliminary general fund budget for 2013 and explained the council and staff will continue to work together on the final budget with the goal of passing a final levy of an amount less than 5 percent.

“The last two years, the city council has not increased its levy,” Moe said. “This has been occurring at the same time the city is seeing slashes in its local government aid and the amount of funding coming from the state.”

Moe noted the preliminary levy sets the ceiling for the upcoming tax collection year and while the amount can be lowered before final passage, it may not be increased. The preliminary budget and levy needs to be set by Sept. 15.

The council and staff has spent a lot of time on its 2013 budget.

“We had two long-range retreat sessions in July and August and spent hours debating and discussing issues,” Moe said. “I’m concerned about the financial stability of our city if we do not increase our levy. Our cost structures continue to increase, but we have held our taxes completely flat the past two years.”

Moe said one unknown factor for the 2013 budget is the city’s employee health insurance procurement. She explained bids for the city’s health and dental insurance are due by Oct. 5 and will be brought back for council approval on Oct. 15.

“A renewal increase for our city’s health insurance is part of the budget but we don’t know exactly what that increase is until we get our proposals back,” Moe explained.

Moe said the only new staff person being discussed in 2013 is the hiring of an additional police officer.

“We have just set the preliminary levy and tax increase tonight,” Moe said. “We are not done debating and we are hoping to have the levy increase decreased by December.”

Moe explained the city continues to focus on its long-term financial planning. Projects have been identified for the next 10 years, and infrastructure needs have been determined over a 20-year span.

“We run a financial model looking at all these factors,” Moe said. “If we want to stay in the black, we have to look at we need to do. We will average a 6 to 8 percent increase in taxes the next five years if we don’t raise our taxes at all this year. I would rather us looking at smaller tax increases over time than larger jumps.”

The lack of funding from the state continues to be a concern.

“We receive half of the funding we used to receive from the state,” Moe said. “That’s very frustrating. We are responding in general to cuts from the state of Minnesota.”

The total expenditures for the proposed 2013 budget is set at $4,771,928. With the city’s levy increase, here are projected tax impacts on distinct properties: Residential property with estimated $150,000 value– $5/month; Small business with an estimated market value of $180,000– $9.58/month; Large business with an estimated market value of $10,298,000– $702/month.

Cambridge Medical Center signage

City Planner Marcia Westover explained Allina Hospitals & Clinics (Cambridge Medical Center) applied for a conditional use permit to allow five ground signs.

Allina Health is in the process of a new branding and identity program and Cambridge Medical Center was chosen to be the prototype site for their new signage.

The Cambridge Medical Center is currently undergoing an emergency room expansion that will update their facility. To coincide with this expansion, new signage is proposed. All new exterior wall signage, ground signs, and directional signs will be replaced, mostly just replaced, however some new signs are proposed. The signs will all have the new prototype branding along with better directional information to lead citizens through the site efficiently and to get them to their appropriate destination.

Westover said Cambridge Medical Center intends to replace the two existing ground signs. These two ground signs will be 16 feet high (which is the maximum height allowed for this site).

They are also proposing three additional signs that are 11 feet in height. This is too high to be considered a directional sign. Directional signs are limited to six feet high. Therefore, they have requested a conditional use permit to allow these signs as ground signs.

The site as a whole is very large and there are multiple areas of the hospital campus that need better traffic flow. Westover said adding additional signage near the main intersections will help users find their destination more easily. The applicant has said the need for the 11 feet high sign is to get larger lettering so drivers can easily see the words on the sign.

Also, there are multiple tenants in the hospital campus so it is important that there is adequate signage to lead citizens in the right direction needed for their individualized health care.

Westover explained Cambridge Medical Center is also an important site to have effective signage as this is for health and safety of the people in the community. The proposed additional three signs will not appear to cause undue visual clutter or additional concerns for the residential neighborhood as the site is large enough to support the additional signage.

Following discussion, the council approved the conditional use permit for a total of five ground signs at the Cambridge Medical Center campus.