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Altoona 2018 city budget

Wednesday, November 29, 2017
Eric Lindquist | Leader-Telegram

Council rejects completing sidewalk to elementary school, passes budget with flat tax rate, $1.5M for River Prairie upgrades

ALTOONA - The Altoona City Council rejected a last-ditch effort Tuesday night to include funding for a sidewalk/​trail to the 1-year-old Altoona Elementary School in the city's 2018 budget, but then proceeded to pass the spending plan on a unanimous vote.


L-T Staff Photo by Steve Kinderman

The budget maintains the existing property tax rate and calls for overall spending in 2018 of $11.4 million, a decline of 6.6 percent from this year. The tax rate of $6.35 per $1,000 of equalized value means the city portion of the property tax bill for the owner of a $150,000 house would be $952.50.

Despite keeping the tax rate flat, Altoona will collect $89,000 more in property taxes next year as a result of growth in the city's tax base. Tax collections in 2018 are projected to total $2.8 million.

Councilman Matthew Biren proposed a budget amendment calling for the council to include upgrades to Bartlett Avenue/​Highway KB, including the addition of an 8-foot-wide sidewalk, all the way from the city's core to the elementary school instead of part way as was included in the proposed budget. The amendment called for funding the project with money from a tax increment financing district.

"From the meetings and the petitions, the people have spoken," Biren said, referring to what he views as widespread public support for completing the full 1¼-mile project next year.

Biren warned that waiting likely will result in higher construction costs and encouraged council members to vote to "just get it done."  

Councilman Dave Rowe made the case that completing the project as soon as possible is important for the safety of Altoona students going to the school and other residents who would use the trail along the street, saying he hopes and prays nobody gets hurt along that stretch of road in the next year because of the council's delay.

"I believe firmly in talking to people that this is what they want," Rowe said. "I don't remember a single person showing up and saying, 'No, I don't think that's a good idea.' "

A group called Altoona Outdoors had offered to contribute up to $20,000 toward completing the trail extension.

But the council voted 4-3 against the amendment, with Biren, Rowe and Councilman Andrew Schlafer casting the dissenting votes. Mayor Brendan Pratt and councilmen Dale Stuber, Red Hanks and Tim Sexton opposed the amendment.

Sexton and Pratt both expressed support for completing the project after some necessary land acquisition issues along the route are finalized and the city learns if it will receive grant funding to help pay for the trail.

Sexton  said it was prudent to wait rather than commit to the project before knowing the final cost.

"We're being careful. We're being systematic in our approach," Sexton said. "We're not getting emotionally caught up into it."

City Administrator Mike Golat said it's possible, if the last obstacles are removed, that the city still could complete the full project in 2018.

The budget also includes $1.5 million for public features in the River Prairie development along U.S. 53, including a restroom and storage building, a trail in the northeast quadrant, and completing  areas for gatherings, entertainment and recreation. The city also is increasing its seasonal staffing for park workers to help with River Prairie.

In addition, the budget includes $26,280 for on-call pay for first responders to improve the response rate and money for a 2 percent pay increase for most city workers, although police union employees will receive raises of 1.1 percent as called for in their union contract. 

In other business, the council accepted an offer of about $1.5 million for land in the southwest quadrant of River Prairie from a company proposing to build a full-service medical clinic there.

Contact: 715-833-9209, eric.lindquist@ecpc.com, @ealscoop on Twitter

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