During my early years of service on the council, the conversation surrounding the annual budget was always about keeping things as tight as possible. A 0% levy increase was always the goal, and we never wanted to offer an increase higher than 2%. This was, quite frankly, the easy political strategy. But 10 years later, it is also clear that this strategy doesn’t really work.
In Minnesota, the tax levy is the primary tool used to fund municipal governmental services. Northfield property tax revenue accounts for 52% of the general fund. Compared with our 13 most comparable cities in the state, that number puts us at-or-near the bottom of the list.
The lack of revenue has resulted in an understaffed police department, and a public works office that is, at best, a skeleton crew. We have at least seven miles of roads that are either in poor condition, or, in some cases, flat out failing. Our park shelters are in desperate need of basic maintenance. And we have to make sure that we are better equipped to deal with the effects of climate change so our infrastructure isn’t so strained by extreme weather and flooding.
Nobody likes to see a property tax increase, but the increases we have made over the past 10 years have been beneficial. We’ve built a new police station and updated the fire station. We’ve increased the funding for pavement management. We’ve updated the public library and added a new bookmobile that is reaching a wider cross section of our community. We are helping to fund our senior center, FiftyNorth, and we’ve been able to expand our initiative to bring Northfield youth into the governmental process, which is equipping the next generation of leaders.
New tax revenue is necessary, but my colleagues on the council and I are determined to keep the levy from becoming overly burdensome. Not only is Northfield at the bottom of property tax revenue collected for our comparable cities, but our tax and debt levies per person are also quite low, and I’d like to keep it that way. One way to do this is to grow the local economy. Over the years, Northfield has fallen behind other communities in commercial and industrial development. However, due to the hard work of many in both the private and public sectors, we’re seeing that change. One need look no farther than the hospital, clinic and birth center expansions, the Benedictine development, the expansion of Aurora Pharmaceutical, the Maple Townhome Project, the Fifth Street Lofts, and the arrival of Heritage Bank to see that development is happening in all sections of our community.
There will always be more demands on our resources than revenue to cover them, but it is plainly obvious that we have pressing needs that must be given higher priority than we have allowed in the past. We must take the necessary steps to ensure that our community is adequately funded and our infrastructure is adequately maintained.