By Ivan Raconteur
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN Lester Prairie City Council spent part of its meeting Tuesday whittling away at the city’s proposed budget for 2012, and made additional cuts in many departments.
Council members offered cuts from the departments for which they are responsible.
Cuts included $5,000 from mosquito control, $5,000 from legal/outside services, $2,000 from snow removal, $5,000 from purchase of property and equipment, $4,000 from sealcoating, $1,000 from maintenance utilities, $4,000 from capital outlay, $4,000 from park maintenance and repairs, $5,000 from park capital outlay, $2,000 from park purchase of property and equipment, $1,500 from trees, $500 from economic development, and $500 from telephone.
Other options that were discussed were increasing the price of pool passes and eliminating or outsourcing the concession stand at the pool.
The council approved a total of $56,500 in additional budget cuts, and reduced the proposed levy by $33,324.
As a result, the council certified a final levy of $608,954, which is 5.18 percent less than the preliminary levy approved in September. The preliminary levy was the same as the 2011 levy, meaning that the 2012 levy is less than the 2011 levy by 5.18 percent.
During the city’s Truth in Taxation hearing, City Clerk Marilyn Pawelk said the tax increases that many commercial property owners and some residents saw on their tax statements were the result of factors outside of the city’s control.
The state legislature’s elimination of the market value credit and implementation of the market value exclusion, the reduction in residential property values, and the county’s implementation of a new assessment program shifted more of the tax burden to commercial properties.
Staff wages discussed
“We have a great staff, but this is a tough year and I don’t support raises this year,” Mayor Andy Heimerl said. “That doesn’t mean I don’t support our employees.”
Council Member Eric Angvall said he thought city employees should at least receive a 1 or 2 percent raise.
Heimerl said many people are in their second or third year with no increase, and many people are unemployed.
Council Member Bob Messer said he agreed with Heimerl.
“Especially after what we just went through (budget cuts). We have no choice,” Messer said.
Council Member Art Mallak agreed, and mentioned the perception it would create for the public if the council cut the city’s budget, but gave raises to city employees.
Angvall said city employees should not be punished for the state of the economy. Heimerl and Mallak said the employees are not being punished.
Angvall said even Social Security recipients are getting a raise.
Heimerl replied that a lot of people are getting no raises, taking pay cuts, or losing their jobs.
Angvall made a motion to increase wages for all city employees by 1 percent, but the motion failed for lack of a second.
The council took no action on staff wage increases.
Street turnback project discussed
City engineer Jake Saulsbury presented information about a proposed street turnback agreement with McLeod County.
Under the agreement, the county would turn First Avenue North (currently County State Aid Highway 23) back to the city, and it would become a city street. Second Avenue South would become a county state aid highway.
The project would require reconstruction of Second Avenue South, including widening the west end of the street from 25 feet to 41 feet wide, and adding curb and gutter to the west end of Second Avenue South.
The local road portion of Second Avenue South (east of Pine Street) would also be improved.
A sidewalk would be located on the south side of Second Avenue South from McLeod County Road 1 to Oak Street.
Pine Street South would be reconstructed to a width of 41 feet.
The project will also included storm sewer, sanitary sewer, and water main improvements.
The council, by consensus, approved the proposed plan.
Saulsbury will set up a meeting with county and city representatives to discuss funding and refine the scope of the project.
If things continue to move forward, work on the project could begin in 2013.
T-Mobile cellular service discussed
T-Mobile representatives Hossein Sepehr and Tim Flodin were present to explain the circumstances of a service interruption in July.
Heimerl noted that the city was concerned that city police officers, staff, and council members were unable to communicate during a power outage that resulted in loss of T-Mobile cellular service last summer.
After the incident, the city asked T-Mobile to send representatives to a council meeting to discuss what could be done to prevent this happening in the future.
Sepehr outlined the series of events that took place July 18.
Storms knocked out power at about 4:30 p.m., and a backup power source went out about an hour later, causing an interruption in T-Mobile cellular service in the city.
Sepehr said T-Mobile’s operations center did not notify crews about the situation until about 10 p.m., at which time workers brought a backup generator to the site and service was restored.
He said that when severe storms cause multiple outages, it can be overwhelming.
“They had their hands full,” Sepehr said.
The representatives said T-Mobile has experienced six service interruptions in four years, which equates to less than .01 percent outage time.
Heimerl asked if there was a number that city officials could call to get service restored more quickly in an emergency.
Flodin, who is in charge of field operations, gave Police Chief Bob Carlson his cell number for this purpose.
Odds and ends
In other business, the council:
• briefly discussed new sanitation service fees that were approved in November, but took no action.
• discussed a grass waterway that crosses property owned by Stan Ehrke and provides an outlet for stormwater from city streets, and agreed on repairs to resolve the situation.
• approved hiring Litzau Excavating to clear brush around two ponds at a cost of $650.
• approved agreement with the McLeod County Assessor’s Office for assessment services in 2012 at the same cost as 2011.