City council gives guidance for next year’s budget

‘Reality’ challenges ‘zero tax increase’ goal

Jill Schramm/MDN Minot Finance Director David Lakefield speaks to council members and some of the council candidates at City Hall Tuesday during budget discussions that took place Monday through Wednesday. From left are Paul Pitner, Mark Jantzer, Scott Samuelson, Scott Burlingame and Rob Fuller.

Minot city staff will be crafting a 2025 city budget around city council priorities summarized as maintaining city services and infrastructure, holding the line on taxes and empowering employees to give their best.

The Minot City Council convened Wednesday after more than two days of budget tours and talks to provide its budget priorities for employees who will present a spending plan for council consideration in July.

The hiring of three new firefighters – identified as needed in a consultant’s report – was widely supported but so was setting a goal to keep the property tax at a zero increase. However, council members also cited the conflict between maintaining quality services and no tax increase.

“I don’t think there’s a day or two that goes by in my thinking that I don’t think about how we can operate more efficiently and effectively hold the line on property taxes, but you get what you pay for,” council member Stephan Podrygula said. “If you want good roads, if you want police protection, firefighters protecting your property, there has to be a cost for that.”

“While I believe that we need to be as lean as possible, I think that we are confining ourselves a bit by making the statement that there will be no property tax increase,” council member Lisa Olson added. “If it’s possible, let’s try to make that happen, but if it’s not, if we are cutting services that are important just to meet the goal of not increasing property taxes, then we need to look at that very seriously.”

Council member Paul Pitner acknowledged the community’s desire for quality services and for lower taxes.

“I want us to have the goal of no property tax increase. I want us to do more with the same as we had last year. I want us to be able to maintain those services, but we have to be realistic,” he said. “We need to be realistic with what our citizens want and merge expectations with reality.”

Council member Scott Burlingame supported a goal of no tax increase while acknowledging challenges.

“I recognize the fact that we have an aging infrastructure that’s going to become more and more of an issue as we move forward, and in some ways we’re paying for mistakes and for past decisions that have been made, trying to cut corners too much and trying to push problems on the future,” Burlingame said. However, he added, “I do think within the budget there’ll be opportunities to really evaluate and look at what the city’s role can be with childcare and helping out families and helping businesses to solve workforce issues around childcare.”

“We have two legacy projects,” council member Mark Jantzer said of the Northwest Area Water Supply project and flood protection. “They limit the flexibility that we have to do other desirable things, and although we may be somewhat weary of the marathon that we’re in, we need to finish the race on those projects.”

Council member Stephan Podrygula agreed with priorities previously laid out by City Manager Harold Stewart, including public safety, preserving assets and responding to top issues listed by citizens in a community survey.

There was interest among council members in using fees in certain instances to reduce reliance on property taxes.

Podrygula called for updating fees that haven’t kept pace and investing time and resources into efficiency enhancement, incentivizing employees to find efficiencies.

Mayor Tom Ross said employees are a primary asset and can play a major role in finding efficiencies.

“A program where we encourage that and empower – I think we’re going to see results, absolutely,” he said.

Ross also saw places to cut spending in economic development. He said filling a vacant economic developer position is a duplication of services. Nor has he been sold on the services of consultant Retail Coach, calling for using those funds differently.

Pitner supported maintaining existing economic development programs that bring in outside investment and build up small businesses. He suggested regular town hall meetings to talk with the community about issues facing neighborhoods and the city.

Olson stressed the need for improved road maintenance, as identified in a citizens survey, and for developing a plan for the future of the police department building.

Mike Blessum, Scott Samuelson and Leif Snyder weighed in, having been among council candidates in the June 11 election who attended at least some of the budget sessions.

Blessum supported revamping economic development programs and transitioning the cemetery, library and public transit more toward fees and away from tax dollars. He suggested keeping police office authorization numbers while reducing the number of funded positions in light of the 13 vacant positions. Samuelson backed those ideas while also stressing government efficiency and statewide elimination of property taxes. Snyder’s emphasis was on empowering city staff to be more engaged in improving operations.


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