By Lynda Jensen
COKATO, MN Line by line, the Cokato City Council combed through its pending budget for 2010 during a workshop last week, struggling with the idea of raising its levy or cutting away basic components of its infrastructure.
Council members talked about the idea of raising its levy in the range of between 4 to 5 percent, in the face of a large loss of local government aid and other rising costs.
The alternative would be to pare away such entities as the Cokato Museum, the outdoor pool, or taking away pay raises given to city staff in the past year, among other considerations none of which were felt as being acceptable by most of the council.
“We’ve cut as much as we can,” commented Council Member Butch Amundsen. Council Member Gordy Erickson agreed, saying “We’re close to the bottom.”
Amundsen noted that staff has been frugal with its numbers until now, making it difficult to find much areas there were logical to cut. “Sometimes things can’t be helped,” Amundsen added.
There is a $56,000 shortfall to be made up, which the council members were reluctant to take from the general fund reserve; and in fact, Clerk Peg Carlson advised against this. Increases in snow removal were noted, along with the cost of an election in 2010, which will be about $16,000. In December, the loss of LGA amounted to $57,192 for Cokato.
Council Member Wayne Murphy pressed a number of new ideas during the workshop:
• making cuts to the museum, which he pointed out cost the city $75,000 per year. He asked if the museum needed to be open six days a week, in comments after the meeting.
• Murphy noted that the outdoor pool also costs $75,000 to operate. However, there is revenue from candy and tickets sold that amounts to between $12,000 to $14,000.
• Murphy proposed having a facilities study made that would look at the long-term plans for buildings. “Does it make sense to have two buildings?” he asked.
• taking away the 3 percent raise granted to staff last year. This was poorly received, with one council member describing it as a slap in the face to staff who work late nights.
Longtime public works employee Ken Bakke protested at one point during the meeting, saying that some were “picking on the museum.”
As far as the pool, Bakke admitted that it was “probably cheaper to swim in a lake.”
In regards to the staff pay cuts, Bakke said “You’re paralyzing the staff,” and encouraged the council to make hard decisions quickly.
The council looked at the following potential increases:
• adopting a 4.5 percent levy increase that would allow for a 1 percent increase to staff pay.
• adopting a 4.9 percent levy increase that would allow for a 1.5 percent increase to staff.
• adopting a 5.03 percent levy increase, that would allow for a 2 percent increase to staff.
• adopting a 5.28 percent levy increase that would allow for a 3 percent increase to staff.
No decisions were made as of yet, with the preliminary budget expected to be adopted tonight (Monday, Sept. 14). Once adopted, it can be lowered, but not raised. To make contact with council members with your feedback, please click here for e-mails and phone numbers.
The consensus was to wait for public input about these figures, and what the public thought of the subject in general. The decision will be made tonight at its regular council meeting, 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 14.
The final numbers will officially take effect in December.
Those present at the meeting included council members Amundsen, Erickson, Murphy, Mayor Bruce Johnson. Council Member Carl Harju was absent during the workshop.
This article was written with the assistance of videotape.