Geneseo Council has special meeting regarding levy

Beth Welbers
Geneseo Republic

The Geneseo City Council met via teleconference on Tuesday evening to hear public comments and vote on the proposed tax levy for the City's portion of the real estate tax bill. All Councilmen were in attendance. 

A number of public comments were heard at the onset of the meeting, mostly revolving around the facts that this is a bad year to raise taxes, and upset at the level of increase. 

Mayor Sean Johnson opened with comments regarding the levy.  "I don't take these actions lightly, to be perfectly clear, upon assuming my duties as Mayor i never expected or intended to have to consider a tax increase of any type let alone in my first year."  

The council discussion continued for more than an hour after that.  Jo Hollenkamp, City Administrator, attempted to summarize the situation,  "The city’s portion of the total tax bill is less than 10%. The police department is primarily funded by taxes. In order to maintain our current police services which most citizens expect, we need to increase revenue. The 2020 tax levy has a 166,000 increase to the police protection line item. This increase will be divided by all taxpayers. Also, the police pension is a heavy burden.  We must be 90% funded by 2040. Therefore, each year we levy the maximum allowed which is a 4.99 increase over the previous year. None of these decisions were taken lightly by the council nor myself. We understand that many people are in difficult positions right now due to the pandemic, but we also know that people expect a safe community. "

The City is in the middle of a 4 year contract with the Fraternal Order of Police.  It is not up for renegotiation until 2022. The current administration is bound by state mandates as to the amount of pension that is to be funded.  Staff and number of officers cannot be changed until the new contract is negotiated in 2022. At the meeting, Chief of Police, Casey Disterhof  stated that State keeps adding mandates on training, equipment, etc.  all of which cost money, and will require the additional funding the levy would provide. "The police department has special requirements, which are becoming more stringent every year."

The Mayor urged in future financial dealings, to utilize "Realism over Optimism".  Upon taking the Mayors position, there was a change made in the presentation of financial information, taking capital assets out of the equation, and only dealing with cash balances. This process revealed how little cash actually was on hand, and which services were eating up the General Fund. "We need to be honest about what we can afford and not what we may desire.  Those types of conversations and discussions are part of my longer term plan for the city." stated Johnson.  

Councilman Doug Crow, when asked for his input on the matter, gave this comment, "Whilst the rate reported of 18% for the property tax rate increase is shocking that raw number is misleading. This rate increase is an 18% increase on two line items for the City's portion of the tax collected by the County, and the City's portion is less than 10% of taxes collected. The increase, therefore, is not an increase of the total tax bill. It is a much smaller number."

Councilman Craig Arnold, the lone dissenting vote on the approval of the levy, kept asking the Council and the Mayor what options were available, and what plan was in place to prevent being in a similar situation one year down the road. 

The Mayor also cited one of the long term problems was the inability to develop the I-80 corridor.  Having the ability to bring new businesses to Geneseo would increase sales and motor fuel tax income that would provide a more stable income stream and making tax increases less necessary.  

Geneseo City Hall

In a box:  Councilman Doug Crow, when asked for his input on the matter, gave this comment, "Whilst the rate reported of 18% for the property tax rate increase is shocking that raw number is misleading. This rate increase is an 18% increase on two line items for the City's portion of the tax collected by the County, and the City's portion is less than 10% of taxes collected. The increase, therefore, is not an increase of the total tax bill. It is a much smaller number."