A post-recession Cloquet is growing again, and so is the budget

For the past three years, Cloquet City Councilors and Mayor Bruce Ahlgren (with the help of frugal department heads) have held the property tax levy to zero percent.

For the past three years, Cloquet City Councilors and Mayor Bruce Ahlgren (with the help of frugal department heads) have held the property tax levy to zero percent.

Not this year. Councilors and the Mayor are sending a message that the recession is over and it’s time to invest in the city again.

The preliminary tax levy for this year, as approved by the Council and Mayor Tuesday night, is set at $2,729,000, an increase of 2.98 percent over last year’s levy of $2,650,000.

On the bright side for struggling property owners, Cloquet Finance Director Nancy Klassen said the city’s tax capacity has risen, so if a homeowner has no classification change or change in the value of the house, the taxes should be nearly the same as last year and possibly even a little bit lower.

Roughly 23 percent of the property taxes in Cloquet go to the city. Carlton County gets the biggest share of the property taxes, at 47 percent, with the school district taking 19 percent, and Cloquet Area Fire District at 11 percent.


The proposed total expenditures of the city in 2015 are set at $17,305,375 (a 14 percent increase) with estimated total revenues at $15,066,300.

Notice the city’s spending is set to outpace its revenues by over $2.2 million.

Klassen said the biggest difference in the revenue budget and the expense budget is a $1 million project for electrical improvements for the Lake Superior Waterline, which is currently used by Sappi Fine Papers only.

“The city is still working with Sappi on how the improvement will be funded,” she said. “The rest of the excess will come from reserves.”

Some other significant cost increases will come from new positions proposed for 2015. This includes two police officers, one parks maintenance person and an assistant public works/parks director position along with $7,500 toward an events coordinator.

The budget also includes some wage adjustments in the police department due to restructuring, including eliminating the deputy police chief position and replacing it with two commander positions, decreasing the number of detectives from three to two (with one moving to commander) and increasing the number of police officers from 10 to 12.  The increase and changes in police staffing come as the result of a study done in 2013.  

Klassen said the increase of four staff members will bring the city staffing levels to approximately where they were before the LGA cuts started in 2002 although two positions that were cut from the library in 2009 have not been replaced as well as two parks positions, including a parks department supervisor position that was eliminated in 2004.

There are a number of key changes that impacted the budget figures, which are listed below:


  • Healthcare costs are going up by 13.3 percent.

  •  Local Government Aid (LGA), revenue from the state of Minnesota, is project to increase to $2,343,000 in 2015, from $2,299,100 in 2014.
  •  Because of legislative change, the city’s contribution toward its employees’ retirement accounts (PERA) will increase, with the increase varying from .25 percent to .9 percent.
  •  The .5 percent Local Option Sales Tax is accumulating funds, which have not been dedicated to any particular projects yet.
  •  Salaries for city employees are projected to increase by 2 percent, along with any step increases identified under the city’s pay plan.
  •  Minimum wages have been increased from $8 to $9 an hour to meet current state law.

Proceeds from the half-percent local option sales tax have reached $1.34 million, Klassen said. So far the city has not used the money toward any eligible park, infrastructure or economic development projects, although Councilors and the Mayor seemed to reach a consensus Tuesday on improving the tennis courts at Sunnyside and Pinehurst first thing next spring, along with improvements to the parking lot at Pinehurst.
City sales tax can only be used for project costs, not operating costs, so the sales tax is not being used to fund the increased positions recommended.

Although the Council and Mayor Ahlgren have been holding regular budget discussions with city staff for some time. There was no further debate before the meeting and the budget, levy and four-year capital improvement plan all passed unanimously with no discussion by city officials or any residents.

What To Read Next
Get Local