Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, Aug. 6, 2001

Budget talks begin for the LP city council

By Patrice Waldron

Lester Prairie City Council began the difficult task of deciding the city's budget in special session last Monday.

Emotions were running high by the end of the three-hour meeting.

First on the agenda were Kevin Kubasch of Kubasch Sanitation, and Steve Metz of Waste Management corporation, who brought news of the sale of Kubasch Sanitation to Waste Management.

The official date of sale was July 13, but details had not been announced, pending notification of the city governments where Kubasch has contracts.

"Thank you for what you've done, you're going to be hard to replace," Angvall told Kubasch.

Metz assured the council, that in general, everything will remain the same. The service to the people, pricing schedule, and the service during city festivals and events will remain the same, explained Metz.

Before budget talks began, the possible sale of the ice rink property was discussed.

The decision was made to bring information to the Aug. 6 planning and zoning meeting. The council members were instructed by Angvall to each have a price in mind for the two lots, so the council could vote on the matter at its Aug. 13 meeting.

Budget debate

Discussion of next year's budget began with talk of the need to repair or replace the pillars at the public cemetery.

Suggestions to acquire the necessary funds to take care of the repairs were re-evaluating the cost of cemetery plots and looking into asking organizations such as Aid Association for Lutherans and Lutheran Brotherhood for a grant or special funding.

When the Lester Prairie Police Department budget was discussed, Police Chief Fred Blaser was questioned, concerning the lack of significant savings in the part-time hours, when a full-time officer had been added through the COPs grant.

The salary of the other full-time officer is heavily subsidized by the COPs grant.

Blaser explained that the department chose to have the grant funds allocated equally each year, rather than have a huge increase in the budget at a later date.

The police department has also spent extra hours investigating various crimes throughout the year, Blaser said.

The other major expense for the department is patrol car replacement. Blaser pointed out the need for reliable vehicles - that it's a safety issue, and that squad cars get heavier use than most passenger cars.

"I don't care if I drive a 1996 or a 2001, all I care about is that it's reliable," Blaser said.

Maintenance dept.

The maintenance budget is more complex than some of the other department budgets because Maintenance Supervisor Greg Mueller works in many different areas.

It was questioned if there is a way to charge the hours Mueller spends performing maintenance in the pool and parks to those departments.

The hours Mueller spends in those areas is extensive, especially in the spring, because there are many duties to perform before the pool is opened for the summer.

Council member Rose Halloran suggested hiring a part-time person to care for the parks/pool, but who is also available for other work.

This idea might solve the problem of the maintenance staff being pulled away from other jobs in order to handle the work at the pool. When pool needs are heavy, other areas get neglected.

Hiring more maintenance department personnel is a difficult budget issue, and brought up comments from council members.

"I don't think we're in a position to add more to the department," said council member Ron Foust.

"This is the only town I know of who only has one wearing the community shirt," council member Larry Hoof replied.

"Hey guys, face it. I've got a guy who will work, but he won't work for what we pay him," council member Rollie Bruckschen said.

Upcoming maintenance projects include repairing the worst of the manholes at a cost of $1,500 each, and reading the water meter at each house and to ensure that the meters are accurate.

Also approved was purchase of a new Bobcat. The conditions of purchase include spending only the allocated amount, and not making the purchase until a note comes due in September, explained Angvall.

Park and pool

Halloran, who serves on the park board, had the very difficult task of trying to determine the city's largest budget area, the park and pool.

The expenses of the park are next to impossible to track, and many efforts were made to eliminate any unnecessary items, Halloran said.

Wages for pool employees were noted, but the biggest expense was maintenance and replacement of items necessary to keep the aging pool going.

The current pool heater, which needs to be replaced, will cost $17,000.

The cost of the heater, the cost of the hours logged in the spring to prepare the pool for summer, and then the salaries and benefits paid to the lifeguards and pool manager quickly added up as Halloran expressed the items in the budget.

The expenditures this year were $30,000 more than the budgeted amount. Halloran also noted that if two additional parks are added, the outlay will be astronomical.

A park with a downtown location is desired, and a park is set to be installed in Prairie Ridge Development.

The park and pool budget appears to be one area that will be difficult to manage. No decisions were made.

City hall fund

The city hall building is also in need of repairs, and the furnace system needs to be replaced.

There are structural problems, dating back to when the building was erected. Repair is not an option, due to the problem being with an unevenly poured concrete slab, Bruckschen said.

The new, badly needed furnace will cost $11,000.

"You can't make up in one year what people didn't do in 20 years," Halloran said.

The money for city hall expenses will not be cut, because the repairs are vital to the building function, explained Angvall.

No final decisions were made, but ideas about how to handle each budget area was discussed.

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