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City of Ottertail looking at 5 percent tax hike in 2010

OTTERTAIL -- After last year's zero percent tax levy, the Ottertail City Council agreed that the city will require more money to operate during the next year.

At the September 3 meeting, the council approved a preliminary levy of 5 percent for 2010. If finalized, a 5 percent increase would generate an additional $15,115 for the coming year, bringing the total levy amount to $317,418.

"Of course I'd like to see a zero percent increase, but I know we need to cover things," Councilman Terry Wagenman said at the meeting. Wagenman said he recognizes that some of last year's big expenses, such as the acquisition of the former 1st National Bank building, must be covered by the budget.

According to the city's 2010 budget report, the city is scheduled to make a $14,262 payment on the former bank building during the next year. The bank was purchased by the city to serve as the new city hall, including offices for city staff and a space used as the council chambers. Prior to the city's move to the bank last year, the city hall was housed alongside the fire hall in the Ottertail Community Center.

Other costs budgeted for the new city hall building in 2010 include: $2,100 for phone and fax services; $745 for property insurance; and $2,300 for utility services.

Projected disbursements for 2010 total $360,038; this according to a budget report presented to the city council at the Sept. 3 meeting. If the preliminary levy amount of 5 percent is finalized at a later date, this would bring the city's estimated receipt total up to $356,244--just short of the projected 2010 expenditures.

In order to balance the projected 2010 disbursements with the receipts, the council would have needed to approve a tax levy increase of 6.5 percent. This percentage would have brought the total projected receipts up to $360,779.

After an initial review of the budget, Councilwoman Heather Pollard suggested the council consider a five percent increase, and then, if the city can afford it, bump that percentage down lower later on. Wagenman made the formal motion to set the 2010 tax levy at five percent, with the motion seconded by Councilman Myron Lueders, and carried by the council.

Levy due Sept. 15

The city of Ottertail is not required to have a public hearing on their preliminary levy and budget. However, they must have a preliminary levy set by September 15 and certified to the county auditor. The percentage agreed upon can be lowered later, but cannot be raised higher than the 5 percent approved as the preliminary levy amount.

Balanced budget for water department

Also discussed at the Sept. 3 Ottertail City Council meeting was the city's water fund. Total receipts for the water fund were determined at $217,502; with 2010 estimated disbursements at $215,224.

"You do basically have a balanced budget on this," reported city clerk Linda Bjelland during her review of the water fund.

Bjelland reported that $5,000 was transferred from the general fund, along with just under $5,000 for two small water projects. Water sales account for $198,000 of the total receipts. Other income sources for the water fund include items such as interest earnings, water meter deposits, water inspection fees, and rental income from the antennas placed on top of the water tower.

Antenna lease OK'd

Both Lakes Plus Internet and RDO Equipment rent antenna space on top of the Ottertail water tower. At the Sept. 3 meeting, the council approved a 5-year term, $600 a year contract for antenna space with RDO. The antenna lease was approved by the council, contingent on changes and recommendations from city attorney Terry Karkela.

RDO has an existing contract with the city for another antenna, also set at a rate of $600 a year. The newly-approved RDO antenna is a GPS repeating antenna which uses radio frequency to transmit extremely accurate guidance to agricultural vehicles.

"It's for the GPS," Councilman Wagenman explained of the new antenna. "It's a great tool, and it's green, environmentally friendly. It's the right thing to do."

By mounting the antenna on the water tower, Wagenman said the company expects to save an hour and a half on each field. The GPS antenna will help agricultural vehicles navigate the fields without overlap. This will save on gas used by the vehicles, and also cut back on the amount of pesticides applied on a field.