Hastings City Council members preliminarily approved a decrease in the city’s tax rate for 2020 at its Sept. 16 meeting.

The approval includes a 3.9% hike in the levy and despite it being an increase, the overall city tax rate will be down next year by almost 1.5% — from 59.61% to 58.15%. This is due to the city’s overall tax base, or total value of properties, increasing by 7.16%, which is higher than the levy hike, explained the city’s finance manager, Melanie Lammers, at the meeting.

The city's 2020 preliminary budget totals $33,609,080 and levy $14,788,179.

That means mostly good news for Hastings residents. According to city documents, depending on the home value increase, the city tax in 2020 would raise anywhere from $70 for a $214,124 home value, up from $199,000 valuation the previous year, to $116 for a $371,220 home value, up from a $345,00 valuation the previous year.

The levy target wasn’t preliminarily set until a Sept. 9 council workshop, which was late in the process, said council member Mark Vaughn. The council is legally required to set a rate by Oct. 1.

“We were kind of up against wall … but I think we did the right thing,” he said. “We really hashed it out.”

Broadly, the city’s budget includes funding for several renovations of park trail improvements, pool improvements, a new police officer and numerous others.

In the lead up to Monday’s meeting, the council held budget workshops where several other projects to fund were discussed but ultimately passed over. Council member Tina Folch advocated for funding a transit study, aesthetic improvements on Vermillion Street and others, but were ultimately squashed.

She described it as poor leadership to not address those, but ultimately was pleased with the lower tax rate. The city also began to look ahead to funding restorations for the leaking city hall dome and the State Highway 316 safety project in 2021, which Folch said were strong steps by the city.

“It’s disappointing that, as always, there’s needs and not enough funding that doesn’t go around,” Folch said.

Council will approve the final budget and levy at its Dec. 16 meeting, with a prior truth-in-taxation hearing Dec. 2. Council members could further lower the levy, but not raise it, before the final approval. It's unlikely a decrease would happen though, Vaughn said.

Veteran’s center, museum and library denied

Following suit with an advisory committee’s recommendation, council members denied a home use permit for a proposed veteran’s center, museum and library at the former Caturia-Smidt Funeral Home.

Dean Markuson, the man behind the proposal, had previously told the Star Gazette he was no longer planning on pushing for the site after the city’s planning commission, a seven-member advisory group, recommended denying his permit on Sept. 9. Instead, he had said he was looking at two other local sites or one in Wisconsin.

However, he told council members on Monday that there were no other sites being considered and he was committed to the former funeral home.

Council members expressed concerns over the lack of concrete details and the potential for caterers to serve alcohol in the space, before voting 6-2 against the proposal. Mayor Mary Fasbender and Folch voted to approve the plan.