The Chanhassen City Council passed a motion to approve the city's 2020 budget and levy Monday evening.
The council approved the budget and levy of $11,741,368, an increase of $721,500 from 2019. The motion for approval passed 4-1. Mayor Elise Ryan and councilors Jerry McDonald, Bethany Tjornhom and Dan Campion voted yes; Councilor Julia Coleman voted no.
The levy represents additional budget requests made by staff in November for an additional park maintenance employee at $80,000; an additional street maintenance employee at $80,000; and funding a portion of the upcoming city pavement management program of $350,000. The budget requests were an additional $510,000, coming in after the council had done the majority of levy review earlier this year.
Before the City Council passed the final budget and levy, the mayor and councilors presented their reasoning for supporting or not supporting the final numbers.
Mayor Ryan pointed out that although no one came forward at the recent Truth in Taxation meeting, "this is an increase in the levy over and above new growth in 2020," and that "it was important to get council feedback, either in agreement for or what you can't support."
Ryan acknowledged that the 16% reduction in the city's healthcare costs was a welcome surprise and that she supported the increases in employee salaries to account for cost of living; the police contract; fire department duty crews; street maintenance; and the pavement management fund. But the one area she tended not to support was adding an additional park employee, due to the late date the request was made.
Councilor Coleman said the city needs to prioritize and temporarily do without in some service areas, citing concerns of seniors and families living on limited budgets in light of the recently approved city franchise fees.
"Every time government takes more money out their budget, we too must tighten our belts and prioritize the needs before us," Coleman said. While she supports increased spending for the fire department, public safety and law enforcement, she said she hoped the city would be more resourceful and creative in other departments. "For these reasons I will not support any other expenses that increase the levy this year," she said.
Councilor McDonald agreed that this was a change in how the council has worked on the budget and levy in the past, "but we have to face that new growth doesn't meet the growing needs of the city. People are asking us to increase their services, for example, the city's potholes," McDonald said.
"We don't have enough people in the street department to do normal maintenance," McDonald said. "And every neighborhood in this city has a park; that's a lot of parks and many of them are over 20 years old," adding that they will need maintenance and new equipment. "The (additional) park maintenance employee is warranted."
Councilor Tjornhom conceded that while she didn't support the franchise fee last year, "now we have money to work with to support our community." She said she supported the additional budget requests.
Councilor Campion said this year's budget process took soul searching, particularly since, "back in 2014, when I first got here, I thought I'd be against adding to budget and raising the levy. But I realize that sticking to new growth only creates holes in our city services. We've done a good job of being good stewards of the city's money for many years by having the lowest tax rate among our comparable cities and neighbors. The street and parks maintenance staffing are both needed. Our parks are the jewels of Chanhassen."