Last month, the City Council approved a 2023 preliminary property tax levy of $75.5 million, a 10.5% increase from 2022. The preliminary levy sets the maximum amount of property taxes that can be collected. The amount can be reduced, but not increased before final budget adoption in December.
That is a significant number, much higher than the 2.75% increases that occurred in each of the past two years, and higher than our average increase of 4.5% since 2016. The primary factor driving this increase is a significant increase in public safety spending in Bloomington. It’s a conversation we’ve been having for at least 18 months. Police and Fire accounted for 49% of the City’s 2022 tax levy, and the proposed 2023 levy increases that percentage.
Bloomington firefighters have served this community since 1947, operating on a volunteer or paid-on-call basis. Sufficient staffing continues to be a critical issue. The ideal number of active firefighters for Bloomington is about 155. The Bloomington Fire Department has 97 active firefighters that includes seven chiefs. Insufficient staffing is creating issues in response times and the number of firefighters responding to calls. This year, BFD met its response-time goal only 67% of the time. Bloomington fire trucks frequently arrived on calls with only one or two firefighters in the truck. The 2023 budget is an important first step in moving Bloomington to a full-time fire department by hiring six new full-time firefighters.
The proposed budget also includes a proposal to add police officers to the Bloomington Police Department. BPD is currently authorized for 123 officers. Based on national benchmarks for peer cities, that’s low. The proposal would add three new positions.
One of the biggest benefits of increasing the number of officers in BPD would be a decrease in the hours of overtime our officers currently work. Policing is hard, stressful work. When officers need to work overtime to meet basic staffing needs, they do not get the downtime they need and deserve.
In total, the investments in public safety would be $4.4 million. The remaining $3 million in the proposed increase is in line with increases from previous years. The costs of City services are increasing due to the rise in the costs of supplies, materials, fuel and pressures from a tight labor market. Surrounding cities face similar challenges related to staffing and infrastructure reinvestment.
This levy funds 68.6% of the City’s General Fund budget. The remainder of the General Fund budget is supported by lodging and admission taxes, license and permit fees, grants and program revenues. To go deeper on the topic of the proposed 2023 levy, visit blm.mn/cm8-24. For more budget information, visit blm.mn/budget.