A divided Prior Lake City Council approved a 6.5 percent tax levy increase Monday night, after a last-minute cut to the 2016 budget.
For the average homeowner, the levy means less than $70 more in property taxes. It follows a 10 percent bump in 2015, which officials said came out of a need to play catch-up after years of dipping into reserves to avoid major increases.
The council voted last week to adopt debt service and revolving equipment fund levies, but put off the final budget vote — including a proposed general purposes levy of more than $7 million — after last-minute concerns from council members and more than two hours of public testimony.
Early budget proposals included levy increases of more than 11 percent. Finance Director Don Uram said staff members cut that number by whittling budgets and taking advantage of unexpected revenue, including retirements in the police department.
The levy amount was cut twice, ending up at slightly less than 8 percent last week. Council member Rick Keeney asked for another $100,000 cut Monday night. The cut passed 3-2, with the mayor and one council member dissenting.
Residents also were divided. The group Citizens for Accountable Government (CAG), whose members routinely speak out against taxation and spending across Scott County, have consistently opposed the 2016 levy increase.
"I'm not here to complain about the tax level. I'm here to complain about the way the tax dollars are being used," CAG leader and former mayor Wes Mader said at last week's public hearing, citing delayed road projects and millions of dollars in utilities still waiting for development.
"Perhaps if municipalities ... seriously considered needs over wants, worked off credible estimates and held people accountable, perhaps it wouldn't be necessary to confiscate more money from hardworking taxpayers," said CAG member Alexandra Matyja.
But other residents wanted a tax increase even higher than that initially proposed. Pull Together for Prior Lake, which emerged in September as a counterpoint to CAG, pushed this fall for a levy increase of more than 16 percent.
"What we were trying to get people to think about when we were starting the organization was, what does it cost to get quality services?" said Lloyd Erbaugh, who leads the group and chairs the city's Economic Development Advisory Committee.