By Jean Doran Matua, Editor
It still surprises me that nearly no one attends city council meetings, and yet so much can be learned there. Sometimes the best informational “finds” are the accidental ones, the ones that are unexpected.
Truth in Taxation meetings have a reputation for being uninteresting yawn-fests, but they are important to all of us who pay taxes. A Truth in Taxation hearing is where taxpayers can learn where their money is being spent, and on what.
Watkins closed their regular council meeting Dec. 13 precisely at 7:30 p.m. for the scheduled Truth in Taxation meeting. One individual, Ralph Linn, came to the meeting because the property tax on his home in the Spaulding Addition just went up 46 percent – and that was before the new tax levy approved in November. After some discussion, it was learned that the county assessor has been instructed to assess all properties at 96 percent of their market value, not 82 percent as before. As Linn’s market value increased greatly, so did his taxes this year.
This is the standard stuff of Truth in Taxation meetings.
Fred Struzyk and his wife Lyn Imdieke-Struzyk also came to the meeting. They own Hilltop Health Care Center, having purchased it in 2012 at a time when it seemed probable that Watkins would lose the nursing facility (and largest employer in town).
When they purchased Hilltop, there was an option to make it a tax-free property, but they chose to pay property taxes based on the belief that the city would be fair in how it spent the tax revenues. In 2015, they added Gardenview Apartments and applied for Tax Increment Financing to postpone the increased taxes on that portion of the property for 10 years. This is a frequently used incentive for businesses to come to town, or to expand and add jobs in town. Earlier this year, they added another 11,000 square feet to the assisted-living apartments and chose not to apply for another TIF, again believing in the fairness of taxation. The paint is barely dry in the apartments and there are only a few left available.
Fred did some research, though, and questioned the Watkins council why the city is paying ballfield expenses while the ball club is showing income of about $50,000 a year. With such income, he believes that some of the expenses could be paid by the ball club, instead of the city.
Not that Struzyk is against recreation, or Watkins, or baseball. He and Hilltop along with the Chamber and the bank have together sponsored three free-swim days at the Watkins Pool each summer, for instance.
His contention is that the city is paying the ball park’s water bill, and they use a lot of water. The city also pays the facility’s insurance.
There was discussion about some of the issues. First of all, the EV-W School District owns the property on which the ball field is built; the city leases it from the school. The issue of paying for the water has come up before. But there was a problem with the meter, two problems actually: it was tied in with the Watkins Elementary School, and it wasn’t functioning properly to accurately measure water used just by the ball park. This has been fixed, so maybe now water usage can be metered – and charged to the ball park.
Closing the Truth in Taxation hearing, the council approved the final levy and final budget for the city.
The city will look into other ball park expenses and see if there is a more equitable split of expenses with the city.
In other business, this was the final meeting of 2018 and, as such, the final meeting of Brenda Carlson’s term on the council. Both Carlson and the council expressed gratitude for her time and service on the council, and Carlson assured them that she wasn’t going anywhere. She also especially thanked clerk Deb Kramer and public works director Steve Geislinger for their hard work. “This town could not run without you,” she said.
The council approved the new parking ordinance (you’ll find it on page 21 in this week’s Tri-County News).
The council approved the on-sale temporary liquor license request for St. Anthony Parish for their Paydown Party Feb. 9 and 10.
The EDA and city have received property complaints around town. These will be looked into in the spring.
The next regular meeting will be at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 10. As with all city council meetings, the public is always welcome. The open forum portion of the Watkins meetings is early on the agenda.