Cities and counties across the state are setting their final budgets for 2014. There has been criticism levied around the state because property taxes are going up a bit in spite of the state's increase in Local Government Aid payments, after Gov. Mark Dayton and DFL legislators promised this would help keep property taxes down.
New Ulm's budget is an example, showing a 3 percent increase in property tax, even with a $110,949 increase in LGA. The city, like other cities, is playing a little catch-up after experiencing several years of cuts in LGA spending and even midyear unallotment of LGA funds that had been promised and were already in the budget.
The city has cut budget for operations, put off hiring for vacancies and lowered subsidies for a lot of organizations that make New Ulm unique in the past. This year the council had a decision to make on what to do with $87,050, funds that had been budgeted for health insurance increases, but which were freed up when the health insurance costs didn't rise as much as expected.
The city could have cut the 3 percent property tax levy increase with the money, but instead chose to use it for some necessary and some practical purposes, like recodification of the city's code book and supporting economic and retail development activities in town, and paying cash instead of bonding for some street repairs.
It spent some of that money for restoring funding that had been cut in past years for groups like the Concord Singers, the New Ulm Battery and the Municipal Band. One could argue that these are not exactly essential services, but they do help make New Ulm a unique and special town.
Oh, and the council decided to devote $15,000 for fireworks for next September. We know people have been complaining about a lack of 4th of July fireworks in New Ulm, but this is an opportunity to create something new and special centered on another New Ulm landmark, the Hermann Monument. The hope is that this event can grow to the point where it can pay for its own fireworks over the next five years. That would be great.
In the meantime, the council seems to think it can get more "bang for its bucks" (sorry, we couldn't resist) with fireworks in September.