Cambridge sets preliminary 1 percent levy increase for 2014

The Cambridge City Council set its 2014 preliminary tax levy at $4,892,616 during its Sept. 3 council meeting, which is a 1 percent increase ($48,442) from last year.

Finance Director Caroline Moe explained the council and city staff met several times to discuss the 2014 budget and levy. She said city staff and council will continue to work together on the final budget and levy, but noted the levy cannot be increased from the preliminary amount.

“The 2014 budget is a work in progress, and we anticipate other adjustments prior to its adoption in December 2013,” Moe said.

Moe explained the preliminary general fund budget for 2014 is balanced at $5,742,226 as far as revenues and expenditures are concerned. General government expenditures are $1,379,737; public safety, $1,931,654; public works, $1,423,852; and parks and recreation, $354,748.

Council Member Howard “Howie” Lewis voted against the motion for the 1 percent preliminary levy increase.

“Cities around us are going with a flat increase,” Lewis said. “I think with a 40 percent increase in local government aid we can get by without being different from the other cities. I am opposed to this preliminary levy.”

Moe noted during her presentation that staff recommended no increase from 2013 due to the large increase in local government aid.

Council Member Chris Caulk said the city shouldn’t rely too heavily on state aid.

“How long will local government aid be back?” Caulk said. “How long do we want to keep local government aid in the budget? I don’t want to depend on local government aid. It’s here today, but will it stay?”

Concerns with texting at the council dais

Mayor Marlys Palmer said city staff came to her with concerns about the amount of texting taking place during council meetings.

“There are concerns with the attention of council members and equal concerns of public perception regarding this behavior,” Palmer said. “Our citizens elected us for serious reasons, and in return we should give full concern to matters relating to the agenda at the council table.”

City Attorney Jay Squires said the council already has by-laws in place regarding sidebar conversations and texting at the council dais; the council just needs to recognize the provision.

“We have had some concerns with this issue and inquiries by staff, as well as the public, and the public trust is absolutely paramount,” Palmer said.

Council Member Corey Bustrom said adjustments to the by-laws need to be made if a council members needs to send a text message to a family member or has some other family emergency.

“There has to be adjustments made to the existing by-laws and regulations,” Bustrom said. “There has to be ways to do this that aren’t threatening to the nature of the law.”

Squires said if a council member needs to make a phone call or return a text message, they should excuse themselves from the council dais and let other council members and the public know about the situation in advance if possible.

Lewis said he’s never had a text message from another council member while sitting at the council dais. He said he uses his phone during the meeting to check spellings or to research on Wikipedia.

“If I do get a text message during the meeting, it’s usually from my wife,” Lewis said. “I’ve never had a text during the meeting from another council member. I’m not using my phone during the meeting to communicate with other council members.”

Palmer said the council needs to use its electronic devices in good faith during council meetings.

“The public trust is paramount here and we don’t want any issues,” Palmer said. “At council meetings, we want your undivided attention.”

Bustrom said, in the past, he’s had sidebar conversations with other council members when he’s had a question on a particular subject or topic.

“If we need to have more discussion on something, just let us know,” Palmer said. “You might not be the only council member with that question. We have to remember we have people out in the audience watching us.”

City Administrator Lynda Woulfe said city staff just wants to make sure its council by-laws are being followed.

“We just want to make sure the public knows what we are doing at all times during the council meetings,” Woulfe said. “We need to make sure that all our discussions are done in a public forum.”

General contractor services for development of baseball field at Sandquist Family Park

Woulfe explained the council previously authorized the development of an additional baseball field and softball field at Sandquist Family Park.

At the city’s long-range planning session, Russ Mann shared what services he could provide to the city in the construction of the fields.

Woulfe said the proposal from Mann is fair and will accomplish the city’s goal of building a baseball field at a competitive price.

With the proposal, Mann will prepare a Minnesota Twins grant application to assist with the funding of the field development. Woulfe mentioned Mann has previously prepared two successful grant applications for Twins funding.

The council approved the proposal for a cost of $5,300, with substantial completion by Aug. 1, 2014. The scope of the work includes leading the construction of one Little League Baseball Field with a 250-foot outfield fence, lime infield and multiple base positions.