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NORTH MANKATO — The city of North Mankato looks to spend more money on health insurance, a new part-time street department employee, raises for the North Mankato City Council and ravine maintenance among other things next year.

Council members reviewed the city's proposed 2020 budget and tax levy with staff Monday. City staff suggest a 0.6% tax rate decrease, which would mean about $111,000 in new funding, based on the estimated amount of new market value growth in North Mankato in 2019.

Staff expect the city to receive about $150,000 in additional local government aid funding, but most city departments are scheduled to pay more money for health insurance increases. 

In addition, city staff recommend increasing the council's salary. 

North Mankato Mayor Mark Dehen is paid about $8,600 annually, while Council members Diane Norland, Billy Steiner, Jim Whitlock and Sandra Oachs are paid about $5,800 per year. Under staff's recommendation, Dehen would be paid $11,200 per year while the council would get paid $7,600. The increase would go into effect in 2021, after the next council election.

The council debated a similar increase in 2017 but decided against it. At the time, city officials surveyed similar-size communities in the region and found most paid their council members better than North Mankato.

Finance Director Kevin McCann noted the last time the council increased its pay was 2007, with built-in pay increases through 2010. Using inflation tied to the consumer price index, McCann said he found the council should be paid the recommended amount based on those pay increases the council passed more than a decade ago.

City Administrator John Harrenstein said the pay raise also reflects the work council members are taking on.

"I think all of you will concur that there's been an increasing volume of both meetings and committee meetings, and expectations about your role," he said.

The city is still setting its capital spending priorities for next year. Thus far, North Mankato could tackle $500,000 in North Ridge ravine work, as well as $151,000 in street improvements near Dakota Meadows Middle School under the Safe Routes to Schools program and a $600,000 street reconstruction project at Harrison Avenue from Cross to Range streets.

Harrenstein pointed out those projects aren't set in stone, given the council's wishes, shifting funding and construction opportunities could change what the city decides to take on.

Other potential budget items could include $5,000 for police equipment, $75,000 for a gazebo at Bluff Park, $40,000 for breathing apparatus for the North Mankato Fire Department and $60,000 to make improvements to North Mankato City Hall.

The council must set a preliminary levy by the end of September and finalize a city budget by the end of the year.

A majority of the council appears to support the proposed tax levy, which only takes new market value growth into account. Council member Diane Norland advocated last month for a scenario that would have slightly increased the levy and given the city close to $200,000 in new spending, but Norland said Monday she now favors the so-called "new growth" levy.