GILBERT — Next year's tax levy for Gilbert will increase by 2.5 percent, lower than earlier proposed, the City Council decided at its first meeting in December. The proposed increase had been 6 percent before the council pared it down, Mayor Karl Oberstar Jr. said.

The council at the Dec. 10 meeting also approved that the committee studying a combined fire department with Gilbert, Fayal Township and Eveleth proceed to their goal.

City Clerk Jim Paulsen said at the Dec. 17 regular meeting said that the city is in good financial shape going into the end of the year.

During the public input session Bob Pontinen, former city councilor, voiced concerns regarding shared services resulting in lower costs, that "everyone needs to pay the same price" and that Gilbert ranks among the highest in taxes. He also expressed concern with the City Councilor Rocco Leoni garage building project that has been a source of much controversy and "how this got to be such a mess."

Pontinen went on to say that "Gilbert has a reputation for high taxes," which doesn't attract residential or business growth in Gilbert. "After four years of a zero levy, Gilbert's taxes went down to the 16th highest in the state," he said. Now with the levy increase, Pontinen said, "Gilbert is right back to its old way, where it was a dying town."

He also expressed some concerns he has regarding the mayor and that the city needs to welcome people willing to volunteer their time for boards and commissions.

During the councilors' reports, Leoni said of the garage project, "I learned a valuable lesson. I hope it's over with."

The council approved these officers in the Fire Department: Mark Heitzman, chief; Marc Kwiatkowski, assistant chief; Michael Bradach, captain; Anthony Nemanick, lieutenant; Todd Devich, battalion chief; and Matt Bothwell, Tanner Hanson and Ross Haverkamp, trustees.

The union contracts of the law enforcement personnel and of the city crew were approved, with Councilor Rebecca Robich casting the only no vote. "I am opposed to blanket net wage increases that will result in higher taxes," Robich said. The settlements were for 3.5 percent wage increases. "I represent the people of Gilbert," she said. Voting yes were Oberstar, Leoni and Councilor Jeremy Skenzich. Councilor Joseph Pulis was absent.

The next meeting will be Jan. 14.

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