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Under pressure, Ely scales back proposed property tax hike

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Two weeks ago, dozens of angry Ely residents confronted city leaders about a proposed 27 percent increase in the city tax levy.

On Tuesday night, city leaders responded to the pressure by presenting a revised budget that trimmed the levy increase down to 14 percent, aimed at raising $1.6 million.

They contend the hike is necessary to make up for losses in local government aid from the state over the past decade.

Ely Mayor Roger Skraba says the cumulative effect has been that the city has put off capital projects, deferred maintenance on deteriorating infrastructure and neglected too many old, inefficient buildings for too long.

Even with a 14 percent levy hike, the city will have to find more places to trim the budget next year.

"We either cut services, we cut buildings, something is going to give," he said. We can't keep going to the people time in and time out. We have to start cutting something. That was the message that they gave me this year."

Todd Larsen was among about a dozen Ely residents at the meeting Tuesday night. He said his tax statement showed a proposed increase of about 42 percent on his home, and he's glad that number will go down under the revised proposal, but he still thinks a double-digit increase is too high.

"I do have friends in this town that are on a very tight, strict budget," he said. The levy increase is going to put them over their budget, "and they're going to have to cut costs somewhere and they don't know where they're going to cut them."

Former Mayor Chuck Novak said it's no good blaming the tax hike on the loss of state aid dollars. The city is set to receive about $1.7 million in state aid next year. That's the same amount as this year, Novak said. He doesn't think city leaders tried very hard to find ways to cut spending.

"I think they could have cut more and they probably would have been able to do a better job had they engaged the public," he said. "But the public had been cut out until the truth in taxation meeting, and the reports that we get out in public are sketchy. There's no transparency to this process."

While Ely city leaders trimmed about $200,000 from their original levy proposal, it's unclear just where those cuts will come from. Officials said they'll figure that out when they approve their budget in January.