The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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December 18, 2012

North Mankato approves capital budget

NORTH MANKATO — More than $20 million in construction projects and equipment purchases through 2017, financed with borrowed funds, were included in a capital budget approved by the North Mankato City Council this week.

The unanimous approval of the plan is far from the final word on the spending because each project will require a specific authorization by the council. But the five-year schedule offers a preview of the big-ticket expenditures facing the city, and spending slated for 2013 is likely to happen because it’s already been deemed most critical.

The tab was large enough to prompt concern from North Mankatoan Tom Rieff that the city might be setting itself up for property tax increases when payments come due on the bonds and equipment certificates that will be sold to finance the construction and purchases.

“Are we looking at a levy increase right off the bat?” asked Rieff, an unsuccessful candidate for the council on Nov. 6. “... We’re already locking ourselves into a levy increase. That’s my concern.”

Councilman Bob Freyberg said he shared Rieff’s concern and promised that a detailed look at the city’s debt and future payment obligations is coming after a new city administrator is hired.

“I understand what Tom’s saying. He’s absolutely right on,” Freyberg said.

Finalists for the vacant position have been asked about their ability to prepare a long-term capital plan that includes a debt service target for serving past and future debt.

“With those types of numbers, then we could address what you’re talking about,” Freyberg said. “But I hear what you’re saying exactly.”

The five-year plan approved by the council reflects a range of city services, including a library expansion ($500,000 in 2015), a 75-foot ladder truck for the fire department ($750,000 in 2015), a recoating of the interior of the water tower on Carlson Drive ($324,000 next year), replacement of the electronic controls in the city sewer system ($400,000 in 2014), a bathroom remodel in the municipal building ($10,000 next year), and caulking for the flood wall ($25,000 in 2016).

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