Committee studies city’s 2018 deficit

by April Scheinoha

    The Thief River Falls Committee of the Whole continued to delve into the city’s 2018 budget at its meeting Tuesday, Sept. 5.
    As of right now, the city has a $243,000 deficit for 2018 and is planning for a 0 percent property tax rate increase. However, the property tax levy will increase 6.48 percent to $2,115,969 since city leaders are taking into account an increase in the city’s tax capacity. If approved, that means property owners wouldn’t see a difference in their city property tax rates if the estimated market value of their properties remained the same.
    The Thief River Falls City Council plans to consider the preliminary 2018 city budget and property tax levy at its meeting Tuesday, Sept. 19. Prior to formal approval in December, the council may decrease the property tax levy. However, it cannot increase the property tax levy beyond the preliminary amount.
    Even though city leaders are steps closer to setting the preliminary budget, their work isn’t over. A variety of factors led to a  potential $243,000 deficit that needs to be remedied.
    Mayor Brian Holmer indicated that the proposed budget is tight and only includes 1 percent salary increases. He noted that 2018 is a salary negotiation year.
    Part of the deficit is due to increases in insurance rates. Finance Director Angie Philipp said that she budgeted a 10 percent increase in insurance rates for 2018. However, she has since learned that increase will be 14.3 percent.
    The city will also oversee the 2018 election, which is expected to cost about $20,000.
    Holmer said the arena anticipates an $80,000 increase in utility expenses.  In an interview with The Times, Philipp attributed that increase to additional games at the arena. Bathroom improvements were planned at the Huck Olson Memorial Civic Center, but those improvements have since been removed from the 2018 budget.
    Council Member Jerald Brown noted the city needs to address rates at the arena. Some council members suggested comparing rates with other arenas, possibly on a square-footage basis.
    Interim Arena Manager Missy Sletten said $125-per-hour ice rental is considered to be expensive in northwest Minnesota. However, $150-per-hour ice rental is considered to be a steal in the Twin Cities.
    Sletten cautioned council members that it would be hard to compare Thief River Falls to Crookston and East Grand Forks in terms of arena rates. The former two cities run their hockey programs. They charge a participation fee, not an hourly rate.