Grand Forks city leaders finalized a budget for next year that’s about 5.8% smaller than this year’s.
City Council members on Monday unanimously OK'd a $178 million spending plan for 2021, the first proposed by new Mayor Brandon Bochenski. The budget would mean a slight property tax decrease and a beefier pension plan for the city’s police and firefighters. It’s about $11 million smaller than a $189 million 2020 budget the city established almost exactly a year earlier.
Some of the largest or most talked-about differences: an $8 million reduction in large-scale construction spending, $7 million of which is due to a now-completed plan to build a water treatment plant, which began cleaning Grand Forks’ water supply earlier this summer; $1,000 across-the-board raises for city employees in lieu of the larger ones for which they’d usually be in line; and a projected decrease in city revenue that meant cutbacks on training and travel for city employees and spending freezes as a novel coronavirus weighed down sales tax collections.
City finance staff expect to spend about $2.45 million from their reserves to compensate for that projected revenue drop. They initially -- and conservatively -- estimated that the virus would cost the city about $12 million in lost sales taxes, but better-than-expected collections shrank that number to about $6.5 million.
In all, day-to-day spending throughout 2021 is expected to fall to about $135 from $139 million this year.
“We had a very tight, fast-paced timeline after the June election to get this done,” Bochenski said of the coming year’s budget.
Council member Danny Weigel, a UND police officer, pushed for the new public safety retirement plan, which would allow city police officers and firefighters to retire earlier than other city employees. That change is the right thing to do, Bochenski said.
“Especially in these times, I think, as a recruitment tool and a way to keep employees,” he said, echoing Weigel’s pitch to council members earlier this summer.
The new plans will cost about $1.1 million in 2021, an increase of about $258,000, according to city staff. But Grand Forks’ police and firefighters agreed to forego their $1,000 pay raises this year in exchange for the more generous retirement package, which means the net increase to city spending is set to be about $98,000.
The property tax reduction means the owners of a home valued at $197,800 - the median value in the city - would pay about $871 to the city in 2021, according to Finance Director Maureen Storstad. It would be a savings of about $7 over this year.
And residents’ utility bills are set to stay nearly identical, too: city staff budgeted for a typical bill to increase from $96 to $96.81 each month.
It’s a financial drop in the bucket, but Bochenski’s now-official budget also eliminates the city’s welcoming coordinator position, setting aside $15,000 to help a yet-to-be-determined nonprofit shoulder some of the position’s salary. That job was held until late July by Robin David, a former UND administrator who ran against Bochenski for the mayor’s seat last spring.