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Final levy set at 0 percent in Ottertail

In a time where the majority of area residents are facing more financial pressures than in recent years, the Ottertail City Council has decided to do their best to alleviate as much of that burden as possible.

At a December 18 meeting, the Ottertail City Council approved the city's final levy increase, collectible in 2009, at zero percent. This means residents will not be paying in any more for their portion of taxes to the city this year--unless, in some cases, property values increased.

Initially, the council had approved a motion to set the preliminary levy at a 5 percent increase. However, after reviewing the budget, a few council members brought up the possibility of lowering the proposed 5 percent levy.

The suggestion of a zero percent levy increase was first brought to the table by councilman Terry Wagenman, who voiced his opinion that the decision might offer some help to all of the families struggling with the current state of the economy.

Councilman Jeff Spanswick supported Wagenman's proposal, adding how he is an advocate of giving the city's residents a break whenever the council is able to.

This sparked a brief discussion among council members about exactly how much money the city anticipates needing during the next year. On one side, the city needs to make sure there is enough money to support all of their operating costs. At the same time, council members expressed a desire to be sensitive to the economic hardships some locals are facing.

When it came time for a vote, council members Terry Wagenman, Jeff Spanswick, and Ottertail Mayor Raymond "Ole" Mounts voted in favor of setting the final levy at zero percent. Opposing were council members Don Patrick and Arlette Carlson.

In the end, a zero percent increase, as opposed to a five percent increase, left the city with $15,000 less for the general fund budget. The final tax levy for the general fund was officially set at $302,303; this compared to the $317,418 a five percent increase would have brought in. This money will be levied for collection in 2009 upon taxable properties in the city of Ottertail.

The city's final general fund budget was also approved, at $357,138.

The general fund is what finances most day-to-day operations of a city. General fund expenses include wages, salaries and benefits for employees and council members, which is one of the largest single expense categories--at about $100,000 of the total.

Other larger expense categories include:

---Street and roadways, at about $115,000.

---Street lighting, $15,950.

---Garbage disposal, $13,700.

---Parks, at about $12,000.

In addition to the city's general fund budget, there are separate budgets for the fire department operations, of which the city pays $51,797. The improvement bonds budget, at a projected $51,000 in expenditures for 2009, is for special assessments and associated interest costs.

One point council member Don Patrick brought up during the budget discussion was that the city not receiving LGA (Local Government Aid) is in some ways a benefit to the city during these times of economic strain.

With LGA being cut back statewide, many area cities are struggling to find ways to get by with less funding than they have been accustomed to receiving in past years. Since Ottertail doesn't receive Local Government Aid, the city does not depend on it when calculating their annual budget.