Willmar residents: Taxes no, fees maybe. Public works top the priority list.

An online survey of government services and how to pay for them suggests more people favor fee increases to balance the budget over taxes. There were 356 responses to the survey, or about 2 percent of the population of Willmar, which appears to fall short of the response the finance committee of the city council was hoping for.

When asked whether taxes should be increased to support current municipal services, 48.9% said no, and 41.6 % said yes. About 10% did not respond. On the question of whether fees should increase to balance the budget, 54.6% said yes and 36.2% said no.

And when asked whether they support a cut in city services, 53.9% said no, 37.4% said yes.

The city surveyed residents as they prepare for what officials expect to be a lean budget year. Willmar and cities across the nation are dealing with tighter budgets and decisions about what they can’t afford or about how to raise more revenue.

City administrator Mike Schmit says it’s hard to make a budget decision based on relatively few responses. But there were enough to draw broad conclusions. Public works: — plowing, repairing streets and general maintenance — are the most important. “You see public works at the top, so that has to be our focus. We have to be more guarded about the rest that ranked lower.”

“For every person who wanted something saved, there was someone who didn’t want it cut back.”

In general, Willmar’s survey of what city government ought to be doing or cutting yielded very few surprises. The responses favored public works and public safety on a list of services that also included parks and recreation, transit and festivals. At the bottom of the list were lobbying and fire safety education. Survey respondents also didn’t care for charging for fire calls.

Beyond the simple voting, a number of people took the opportunity talk about what they liked and didn’t about Willmar. And as you might expect, there was venting as well; notably about immigration.

Here’s a sample of comments on the wider budget dilemma Willmar faces:

*There never seems to be a shortage of areas where people would like improvements. If the City is facing an economic challenge then so are the people. I don’t see this as a good time to force any further pressure on anyones’ economic condition. Most people would rather contribute to & raise funds for the areas they feel are a good cause. I feel this is a better solution versus charging everyone for projects where only some may benefit.

*I would support an increase if we could see the older parts of town taken care of. I think we focus on the newer parts of town and forget about the older parts that make the history of Willmar.

*MAYBE THE CITY SHOULD CONCENTRATE ON MAINTENANCE ISSUES FIRST. ITS IS HARD TO IMPRESS POTENTIAL NEW BUSINESS TO A COMMUNITY WHERE THE INFRASTRUCTURE (IE: STREETS, CURBS, GUTTERS, ETC.) ARE FALLING APART.

And despite many entries telling the city to cut back on employees and salaries, the majority of respondents answered good or excellent when asked how well Willmar’s city government delivered services.

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