Faribault residents: expect your city taxes to go up in 2020.

That was the word from City Administrator Tim Murray during Tuesday’s City Council work session. Not only is the city obligated to 3% pay increases for all union workers, it’s anticipating a 40% hike in health insurance costs for all employees.

If Murray’s predictions are accurate, that will add another $500,000 to city expenses in 2020. Wage increases will tack on another $431,500.

Combined with other increases, Murray’s now looking at a 9.08% increase in next year’s levy, bringing it to $10.09 million. This year’s levy is $9.25 million, which was a 6.84% hike over 2018.

While health care costs could come in lower than expected and revenues could be higher, Murray and Interim Finance Director Ann Remold prefer to remain cautious when plugging in preliminary numbers.

On top of that, Murray’s asking the council to consider personnel requests from city department heads. Those additions, which include adding a full-time firefighter on each of the department’s three shifts, could run slightly more than $423,000 next year.

Library Director Delane James hopes to add more hours for a library tech, going from 20 per week to 28 hours per week. Doing so would allow the tech to work in the library’s makerspace area, learning the capabilities of the equipment there and assisting patrons who want to use it.

In Parks & Recreation, Director Paul Peanasky has asked to combine two part-time receptionist positions into a single full-time post. That would help with recruiting and retention, as well as bring some consistency to the job, he said. Peanasky has also asked for a building maintenance specialist to oversee all facilities.

The biggest request came from Fire Chief Dustin Dienst, who’s looking to add three full-time firefighters, one on each shift. Dienst, reminded council members of the city’s growth, both in size, industry and population, said he sees this as the next step toward a second fire station. The full-time firefighters would replace three part-time positions. Costs could reach almost $325,000 in 2020.

“As we stretch north to south, people to the north aren’t getting the same response time,” he said, adding that he hopes to see a second station on the north side of town within five years.

While a comparison to other area departments would have let council members see how Faribault stacks up against its peers, Dienst said making comparisons is impossible, as each one has different needs, different size service areas and uses unique staffing models. Some departments are volunteer only, he said, others provide ambulance or rescue services.

Dienst, in a Thursday interview, pointed out the increasing difficulty in recruiting paid-on call firefighters.

Numbers are dwindling across the nation, according to an April report from the National Fire Protection Association. The report estimated that in 2017 there were 682,600 volunteer firefighters in the United States. That’s down significantly from the 814,850 and 729,000 volunteer firefighters estimated to be active in 2015 and 2016, respectively.

The report noted that “volunteer firefighter numbers for 2016 and 2017 are the lowest recorded levels since the NFPA began the survey in 1983.”

Though Dienst would like to man shifts equally, he said he was open to discussing alternate solutions.

As for the budget, numbers, Councilor Royal Ross said he wasn’t concerned by the high starting point.

“9.08% [increase] doesn’t scare me,” he said. This is a puzzle and the puzzle doesn’t become clear until 98 percent of the pieces are in place. I don’t think we’ll end up there.”

The council must approve a preliminary levy by late September. The final levy, due to the state in December, can be reduced, but can not exceed the preliminary figure.

Reach Regional Managing Editor Suzanne Rook at 507-333-3134. Follow her on Twitter @rooksuzy.

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