Each year the city staff works with the City Council and the community to plan for the next year’s budget.
Through long meetings and community workshops to engage city residents, the budget is formed over the course of several months.
There are multiple pieces to a city budget, and Red Wing is unique because of the many entities involved.
“There are a lot of services we provide here that the regional planning and county does near the Twin Cities. Here we are unique, because the county contracts through us, and we provide a lot of things that some cities don’t,” Finance and Accounting Manager Sue Iverson said.
Each year the budget process starts with workshops hosted by the council. The workshops are a way for the city staff to present parts of the budget. The workshops serve as a time for discussions to happen.
The community is invited to be a part of the workshop process to ask questions and provide feedback to the council.
This year several workshops have been held by the City Council and community members have been able to share their thoughts and feedback.
“It is really helpful for people to come in now and tell us what they think, versus coming in in December because it will be too late to make any major changes in a budget,” City Administrator Kay Kuhlmann said.
The budget has many pieces, the capital improvement budget, the operations budget and the levy that is set each year. The city staff begins discussions about the budget as early as April.
“We start around April and May having discussions internally with staff, and we have a workshop at the beginning with the city council and ask them what they are hearing from citizens, ask what they are thinking about for next year and it is kind of a brainstorming session,” Kuhlmann said.
The budgeting process is built around the calendar for state statutes, this way the city is on top of certain deadlines and additional important dates. The preliminary levy has to be set by the end of September for example.
“Our budget calendar actually follows the statutes because we do have to meet certain dates and deadlines,” Administrative Business Director Marshall Hallock said.
When city staff put together the budgets each year they use numerous tools put forth by the city residents and the city council. Comprehensive plans and strategic plans are resources they can use to lay a foundation.
“A lot of times the backdrop is talking to the council because they are in direct contact with our citizens, but we also use the strategic plan and we rely on the comprehensive plans that have been established by the public to lay the pathway,” Hallock said.
Once a foundation is set and the city staff has an idea of what the council would like to see in the budget for the upcoming year, a budget workshop is held to present a larger picture.
“We bring in a big picture and we say, ‘Here’s where we are at’ and outline the costs for services that we currently provide. The capital budget is also different each year so we try to make sure there is alignment between our strategic plan and the comprehensive plan and the capital budget,” Kuhlmann said.
There are aspects of the budget that are also not fully known until close to the end of the year, like labor costs.
“We are a labor organization, and we provide service so most of our costs are related to our labor costs. We have eight union contracts and we haven’t finished negotiating with those so we don’t know exactly what that will cost,” Kuhlmann said.
Some of the pieces have to go through other government departments as well, like the budget levy. There is a quick turnaround and some pieces have to be prepared earlier than the actual deadline given by the state.
In Minnesota there is the Truth-in-Taxation process, a process designed to help public participation in Minnesota’s property tax system.
According to the Minnesota Legislature the process consists of three components.
The first component reads, “Each local government is required to formally adopt a ‘proposed levy’ in September for the upcoming year; the final levy, when ultimately adopted, may not exceed the proposed levy.”
The second component of the Truth-in-Taxation process is, “County auditors generate parcel-specific notices of proposed taxes for all parcels of property based on the proposed levies.”
The final component is, “Each local government is required to hold a public meeting after the notices come out where budget and tax issues are discussed, and where public testimony must be allowed, prior to adopting its final levy.”
The meeting for Truth-in-Taxation must be held at the city level to hear from the public.
“We’ll have that meeting the first Monday of December where we come back and another public hearing will take place, and we get more input on the budget. After that meeting the council will adopt the levies and budgets on that day,” Hallock said.
There are multiple ways for the public to provide input aside from the Truth-in-Taxation meeting and the budget workshops. The council and city staff encourage people to still come to other council meetings or send a letter with feedback.
“Even if you can’t make a council meeting or a workshop you can still send a letter and you can call your council members, which is what we encourage people to do. Have those conversations with the council,” Iverson said.
“The earlier we know about concerns the better. Especially if it is a service level or something they would like to see done, because the longer people wait to give the feedback the harder it is to make those changes,” she said.