North St. Paul council approves levy hike, talks community center contingency

The North St. Paul City Council unanimously approved a 2 percent property-tax levy increase for 2013 at its Dec. 18 meeting.

The 2 percent levy hike equates to an additional $47,000 in revenue for the city, according to City Manager Wally Wysopal.

At a preliminary budget meeting in September, Wysopal said residents in a home valued at $100,000 will pay about $402 in property taxes for city services and debt services with the new levy.

One of the city's goals in drafting the 2013 budget and levy was to reduce its reliance on Local Government Aid from the state. According to Wysopal, the city has successfully reduced its reliance on LGA by 15 percent in the newly adopted budget.

Not only have city leaders worked to reduce the city's dependence on state aid, but they have also put a contingency plan into place by creating an LGA fund with cash reserves in the event the state further reduces the amount of aid the city expects to receive next year.

"We continue to fund our LGA fund, which is set aside just in case the state goes through another financial crisis and cuts our LGA mid-year," Wysopal said at last Tuesday's meeting. "We will have sufficient funds set aside to make up for that reduction."

Community center fallout

The city ran into a bit of a snag late in the budgeting process. Until just a few weeks ago, city officials planned to save about $140,000 a year by leasing the North St. Paul Community Center building to the North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale School District 622. A resident survey conducted earlier this year showed that only 2 percent of residents held community center memberships, and the city was losing money by keeping the center open.

The community center is located at 2290 First St. North in North St. Paul and has many amenities, including a gymnasium, walking and running track, access to personal trainers and interactive exercise equipment in the fitness center. The Ramsey County Library North St. Paul branch is also located within the community center.

Despite the city's hopes of landing a deal with the school district, district officials voted in late November against leasing the community center, leaving North St. Paul city staff to find a way to cover that lost revenue in the 2013 budget.

For now, the community center will remain open through the end of March instead of closing Dec. 31 as planned. Wysopal said at last week's meeting that the city is still working with several institutions on the possibility of a lease agreement at the center.

In the meantime, the city has a plan in place in the event the building is not leased by the end of March.

"If it takes any further time, another three months or so or another year, this budget can be amended during the year," Wysopal said.

The city council can vote to use money from the LGA reserve fund to make up for the community center's lost revenue if a lease agreement isn't reached, Wysopal said.

Staff staying on

The Maplewood Community Center is doing its best to accommodate North St. Paul Community Center members during the time of uncertainty at the center, according to Laurie Koehnle, communications coordinator for the city of North St. Paul.

According to Koehnle, group fitness classes at the North St. Paul facility will run through Dec. 22, while personal training and fitness center orientations will continue as usual through March 31, 2013.

Members with remaining punches on their punch cards will be credited their value toward programs, classes or membership of choice at the Maplewood Community Center. Zumba and boot camp classes at the Maplewood Community Center run month by month, and Maplewood officials have said they will do their best to accommodate the North St. Paul members.

According to Jean Glass, member services supervisor at the Maplewood Community Center, current North St. Paul members can purchase an annual membership to the Maplewood center and receive three additional months free. The offer is good through Dec. 31 and includes both single and family memberships.

Despite the uncertainty of the North St. Paul Community Center's future, Community Services Director Nate Ehalt said all of the community center employees have chosen to stay on staff through March.

"As far as I know right now we have not had any staff that will not be continuing on with us into the new year," Ehalt said.

Earlier this year, when news of the center closing surfaced, employees were offered a bonus as incentive to stay on staff through Dec. 31. Ehalt said that bonus will still be offered, but with a different expiration date.

"What we would do is just push that (bonus) out to whatever our closing date will be, if we end up having one in the future," he said.

Amanda Lillie can be reached at alillie@lillienews.com or by calling 651-748-7814.

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