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Ottertail sets preliminary levy at 6.2 percent

Otter Tail County Auditor Wayne Stein gave a special presentation on property taxes at the Aug. 18 Ottertail City Council meeting. His presentation was intended as an overview on the property tax process.

Topics covered in the presentation included basic terms, classification/class rates, bases of taxation, levies (proposed and certified), Tax Increment Financing and JOBZ, rate calculation, tax calculation, credit calculation (market value exclusion for pay 2012), proposed levy increase, tax abstract and available resources.

"By Sept. 15, you have to adopt a proposed levy and set a number," Stein told the council. "When you set that number, that number is what you are saying you wish to collect in tax dollars."

Stein said he would not recommend setting the tax levy at a rate.

"If everything is always growing, that works. The problem is when things start to not grow," he explained. The levy amount is determined by calculating budgeted expenditures less budgeted revenues.

Additional information about Ottertail's taxable rates and comparisons of the city's tax capacity with other cities are available on the county's website at:

Changes in the tax process were also discussed at the council meeting. Stein said he was unable to provide any exact figures, but did some calculations based on last year's tax numbers. The discrepancy in tax amounts between residents in the Henning and Perham school districts was also mentioned during the presentation. Both school districts are represented within Ottertail's city limits.

Following Stein's presentation, the council members turned their attention to setting a levy amount for the upcoming year. The preliminary amount that is set cannot be raised later on. However, the council can lower the percentage when approving the final levy amount.

After reviewing the proposed budget for next year, council member Mike Windey offered a suggestion of 8 percent. He said he wanted to make sure the city had enough money to handle the unexpected.

"I guess I'd prefer to go a little bit lower than eight. My suggestion is greater than six, but less than seven," said council member Heather Rosenthal. She voiced concerns about raising taxes very much when many citizens are still in a difficult financial situation.

Ultimately, the council set the preliminary tax levy for the City of Ottertail at 6.2 percent.

A budget work session for the council is scheduled for Oct. 11 at 6:30 p.m. The city's Truth in Taxation meeting is slated for 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 29.

Wal-Mart gives $500 to AED project

Ottertail received a $500 grant from the Wal-Mart Foundation for its automated external defibrillator (AED) project. The grant was received through the Local Community Contribution/Hunger Outreach Grant Program.

In a letter acknowledging the grant decision, the Wal-Mart Foundation stated, "We believe that your organization is doing important work to the communities you serve, and we are proud that we are able to support you in your efforts...Thank you for the work your organization does to create opportunities so people can live better."

The council approved a motion accepting the donation and thanked Ottertail City Clerk/Treasurer Elaine Hanson for her work in submitting the grant on the city's behalf.

Compensation plan under discussion

Also at the meeting, the council reviewed a model compensation plan for small cities that was created by the League of Minnesota Cities.

"So far in Ottertail we have five different positions," Hanson reported. Each of these positions has different classifications.

She provided the council with a compensation schedule from the county. Windey took the information Hanson had and created an example pay schedule of his own.

"We need to consider getting our people where they need to be as far as salaries," Hanson said. The stated purpose of adopting a new compensation plan would be to implement employee performance evaluations, address comparable worth issues (pay equity), promote good employee morale and assist in determining the budget.

Rosenthal said she and fellow council member Don Patrick, who are on the city's personnel committee, would be willing to sit down and evaluate the information Hanson presented to the council. After some discussion, it was decided that the entire council would look over this matter together.

Rosenthal requested step plan and salary ranges from some additional cities. If the council does come up with a new compensation plan, this plan would then need to be integrated into Ottertail's personnel policy.