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Council votes to increase mill rate to improve streets

Hudson will increase its tax rate roughly 59 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value to pay for increased street repairs, equipment replacement and other capital spending needs, the City Council decided Monday night on a 5-1 vote.

The increase in the city's share of the property tax bill will be about $118 for the owner of a $200,000 house and $177 for the owner of a $300,000 house.

In return, city residents will get a stepped-up schedule of street maintenance and construction, something alderpersons say their constituents have been asking for.

"You can't ignore the fact that we need to run our business," Alderperson Randy Morrissette II said during the Finance Committee discussion of the issue that preceded the council meeting.

He was reacting to comments by Alderperson Lori Bernard and Mayor Alan Burchill that the school district and county might also increase their tax rates, adding to the burden for city property owners.

The city mill rate (tax rate) for 2013 was $4.66 per $1,000 of assessed property value. Under the plan recommended by the Finance Committee and approved by the council, the mill rate will increase to $5.25 per $1,000 for 2014 and following years.

City Finance Officer Neil Soltis reported that Hudson has had the lowest mill rate for cities its size in the region, and one of the lowest in the state.

The Finance Committee and council considered three options for future debt issuance and capital spending that were previously presented by Sean Lentz of the financial advisor firm Ehlers & Associates.

The recommended options were to increase the mill rate to either $5, $5.25 or $5.50 per $1,000 of property value. The higher the mill rate, the more the city would be able to borrow for capital projects.

Soltis said raising the rate to $5 would provide for basic equipment replacement and increased street maintenance and construction. A mill rate of $5.25 would allow for equipment replacement and a significant increase in street repairs and construction, he said.

At $5.50, the city could fund construction of a $15 million public safety building, but would have to defer equipment replacement and reduce street maintenance, Soltis said.

Bernard was the only alderperson to vote against the increase to a $5.25 mill rate in both the Finance Committee and on the council.

She said the increases under consideration were "big jumps" when you looked them in terms of the percentage increase. The three options were for a 7 percent, 13 percent or an 18 percent increase.

"I just think it's a lot to spring on the taxpayers all at once," Bernard said.

Council President Rich Vanselow said he favored the increase to $5.25 because interest rates are likely to increase, and the city would have to borrow again later at a higher cost to take care of its needs.

Mayor Burchill said he also favored the increase to a mill rate of $5.25.

According to the plan laid out by Finance Officer Soltis, that rate of taxation will allow the city to borrow $24 million over the next seven years, including $5.3 million later this year to pay for 2013-14 capital projects.

The council will decide which 2013 (and possibly 2014) projects to appropriate funds for at its August 5 meeting.

The plan presented to the council showed $2.33 million being available for street maintenance and construction in 2013 at the level of taxation it chose. It provides for an additional $1.07 million in spending on street projects in 2014.

The 2013 projects requested by Public Works Director Tom Zeuli and recommended the Public Works Committee include:

--Mill and overlay of First Street from Elm to Buckeye streets, $312,400 estimated cost;

--Mill and overlay of Gateway Boulevard from Crest View Drive to the Menards parking lot, $473,600;

--Mill and overlay of Hanley Road from Namekagon Street to Carmichael Road, and from Heggen Street to O'Keefe Road, $458,500;

--Mill and overlay of the Crest View Drive west of Heggen Street, $187,100;

--Storm sewer replacement and reconstruction of Buckeye Street from Second Street to the river; $312,000 (the street reconstruction may be postponed to 2014);

--Mill and overlay of O'Keefe Road from Crest View Drive to Mayer Road, $329,500;

--Street crack-filling citywide, $230,000; and

--Miscellaneous mill and overlay projects citywide, $200,000.

The city is also looking at expensive future projects in the reconstruction of Vine and Sixth streets.

The council agreed to address funding for a future public safety building as a separate issue at a later date.

Mayor Burchill said the price tag of $15 million used for planning purposes was likely excessive. He indicated that St. Croix County and the city are talking about a combined building on the Government Center land that would cost the city significantly less.

Other action

In other business, the City Council:

--Voted to amend the Hudson Area Joint Library Agreement to end the requirement that the library reimburse other county libraries for circulation to residents of the towns of Hudson and St. Joseph. The library paid a total of $34,488 to the River Falls, Somerset and Roberts libraries in 2013, with the money coming directly out of its operating budget. Burchill said the requirement in the joint library agreement is outdated, since the county now reimburses libraries at 100 percent of the cost of providing service to residents of municipalities that don't have a library. He indicated that it was included in the original agreement to win county support for formation of the joint library.

The other three municipalities that are part of the joint library agreement will have to approve the amendment, too, for it to go into effect.

Burchill also announced that the village of North Hudson and towns of Hudson and St. Joseph are expected to rescind their previous actions to withdraw from the joint library at the end of 2013. He said the recent change in state law that exempts municipalities from having to fund joint libraries to the level of the county levy is the reason for the library partners' change of heart.

--Agreed to take over maintenance responsibilities for the 0.43-mile stretch of Stageline Road from Center Drive to the east side of the Hudson Hospital & Clinics property. The town of Hudson has had jurisdiction for the road, which is now within the city limits.

--Approved an ordinance regulating pedal taxi cabs.

--Granted a taxi cab license to Magena Taxi Services. The vehicles listed for the operation were the same ones that were operated by Kilimanjaro Taxi Cab LLC. The approval required Kilimanjaro to surrender its taxi cab licenses.

--Approved the St. Patrick Church Fall Festival 5K run and walk to be held on the morning of Sept. 21.

--Approved painting curbing yellow and erecting a no-parking sign on Webster Street at Industrial Street to keep vehicles from parking in front of mailboxes.

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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