The number of Minot police officers and firefighters will go up next year but so will property taxes under a $168 million budget approved on first reading by the Minot City Council Monday.
The budget includes an additional 31.5 staff positions, including seven police officers and four members of the fire department. The departments have indicated the positions will be filled as four patrol officers, three detectives, an assistant fire chief, fire inspector and two firefighters.
The council split 10-3 in approving the budget, with some members raising concern about taxes. The proposed tax comes to about $412 for each $100,000 of home value, up about $47. Homeowners with valuation increases will see a greater effect from the increase. Also, this is just for the city's share. School, park and county taxes are additional.
"I am bothered by this budget," Alderman Dean Frantsvog said. "I am not comfortable with 31 and a half new positions. I think it's too many. I think we need to phase ourselves into that."
Alderman Scott Knudsvig also objected to the level of employee increase given the amount of property-tax increase and the 20 percent increase in water, sewer and garbage rates.
"It's too many burdens at one time," he said.
Alderman Milt Miller joined Frantsvog and Knudsvig in voting against a budget that included the recommendations of Council President Jim Hatlelid. Hatlelid had proposed funding 31.5 positions from department requests for 60.5 positions.
Voting for the budget were Tom Seymour, Bob Miller, Dave Lehner, Mark Jantzer, Amy Moen, Larry Frey, George Withus, Blake Krabseth, Lisa Olson and Hatlelid.
Mayor Curt Zimbelman voiced concern both with the tax level and the effect that the budget will have on the city pension fund, which an actuarial firm has determined is in a vulnerable position.
Under the 2013 budget, the city would add $750,000 to the pension to meet the contribution level that actuaries say is necessary to maintain the status quo, although that does not address the unfunded liability that also concerns the actuaries.
"We are kicking the can down the road," Zimbelman said. "We can't just sit here and allow it to continue to happen."
An ad hoc committee is scheduled to review the pension situation and make recommendations for possible changes.
The council did indicate an interest in allowing a property tax exemption on the first $75,000 in value on new homes to expire at the end of the year. The expiration happens automatically unless the council acts to renew it.
Scott Williams of Minot presented the council with petition signatures asking for repeal of the exemption.
"The last thing we need right now is an incentive to build new homes in our city," he said. "Growth is good, but the growth should pay for itself."
The council heard concerns from the public about rising taxes but also about the need for more public safety employees. Former alderman Stephan Podrygula and Minot Area Chamber of Commerce president John MacMartin spoke in support of the proposed spending levels and noted the need for more fire and police employees.
New positions added in the budget besides the public safety officers are a finance internal auditor, two dispatchers, three building, electrical and mechanical inspectors, an inspection administrative clerk, a traffic maintenance worker, an assistant city planner, three employees in sanitation, an equipment operator in each the landfill, cemetery and streets, two employees in utilities, two airport operation technicians, a library assistant and a public information officer.
The positions added nearly $2.3 million to the budget, although not necessarily to the property tax. Some positions are paid through utility and airport funds or building inspection fees that will go up under the budget.
Krabseth unsuccessfully proposed cutting the number of new positions to 28.5 by eliminating the fire inspector, a detective and the traffic maintenance worker. Bob Miller also unsuccessfully moved to increase the number of police officers and fire fighters beyond Hatlelid's recommendations.
Mayor Curt Zimbelman noted that adding more police and firefighters does not ensure those positions will be filled. The police department has not been able to fully fill its existing positions. Zimbelman said putting the positions in the budget means taxes must be levied to pay for them, whether the jobs are filled or not.
The council is scheduled to meet again next Monday to act on the budget on second reading and final passage.