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Lester Prairie weighs costs, benefits of hiring a city administrator
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April 13, 2015

By Ivan Raconteur
Editor

LESTER PRAIRIE, MN – Lester Prairie City Council spent some time during a workshop meeting Tuesday considering the value a city administrator might provide to the community – and what hiring such a person might cost.

Gary Weiers of David Drown Associates presented four options he developed after listening to input from the council during another workshop meeting March 10.

Weiers summarized what he had heard from the council, noting the council is generally satisfied with the current city staff, but the existing organizational structure lacks the capacity to do more.

The inability to handle projects related to commercial and residential development was a specific concern mentioned by the council.

Weiers presented four options for the council to consider, along with estimated costs for each.

The first option is to do nothing. There is no cost to this option, but the concerns identified by the council would not be met.

The second option is to create a city planner/economic development (community development) position.

This position would help the council determine the best ways to use the city’s resources, and would be responsible for planning and organizing the implementation of projects, administering economic development activities, and coordinating implementation of improvements and programs. It would also oversee planning and zoning.

The estimated annual cost for this position would be $66,250 (based on an annual salary of $53,000 plus benefits equaling 25 percent of the salary).

Weiers noted the city would not gain any organizational management, and it would add another person who would report to the city council.

It would, however, have a noticeable impact on addressing the council’s list of concerns.

It would allow more outreach, and the person could work with developers and the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED).

The third option, and the one that seemed to get most of the council’s attention during the workshop, was creation of a city administrator/planner position.

The primary difference between this position and option two is that an administrator, in addition to the duties of the planner position, would include day-to-day organizational management.

While a planner would report to the city council, and be at the same level as other department heads, an administrator would report to the city council, and all other city departments would report to the administrator.

Weiers said this would be the most expensive, but also the most comprehensive option.

The estimated cost of this option is $81,250 (based on an annual salary of $65,000, plus benefits equaling 25 percent of the salary).

This option would also involve the greatest organizational change for the city, and would require a firm commitment from the city council to make the change.

The fourth option Weiers presented involves keeping the current organizational structure and using contractors to provide economic development and planning services.

Weiers noted it is difficult to predict what the annual cost of this option might be, but he estimated the city would pay a minimum of $25,000 for this option.

“I don’t think that’s a great idea,” Weiers said of the consultant option. “Consultants can only do so much.”

He said hiring a consultant for a single project is easier, but it becomes more difficult when a city is considering multiple projects, which may require different areas of expertise.

Hiring a consultant would cost a lot more per hour than a staff person, Weiers said.

Council Member Ron Foust asked if Weiers was looking at full-time positions.

Weiers said yes, he is looking at full-time positions. He said sharing a planner with another city (an option the council had asked about in March) is easier said than done. It would require finding another nearby city looking for the same thing, and it would raise questions about which city was the planner’s priority.

Weiers also noted the pool of candidates for a part-time position would be different than that for a full-time position.

Foust said he was not surprised by the salary estimates for a city administrator that Weiers presented. He noted he has seen the salaries of administrators in other local cities in the newspaper.

A secondary issue that would apply for any position the city might add, even on a part-time basis, is space. The city office would have to be modified to add another staff person.

Weiers said even if the council decides to create a new staff position, the city may still need to hire a consultant for specific projects in the future.

Mayor Andy Heimerl said he would like to eliminate options one and four, and consider something in between.

Heimerl said he likes option three (hiring a city administrator), because an administrator would take over items such as annual salary reviews for employees, which he said the council is not qualified to do.

Council Member Bob Messer said he also likes option three.

Foust asked if an administrator would oversee city boards and commissions.

Weiers said commissions would continue to report to the council, not the administrator, but an administrator often serves as the liaison between commissions and the council, which would remove this responsibility from council members.

Donna Machemehl and Shirley Dibb were among the residents present at the meeting. Both said they have thought for years the city needs a city administrator.

Machemehl said an administrator could help bring business to the city.

Dibb said she thinks the council would have the support of residents if it moves forward with creating an administrator position.

The council asked Weiers to create job descriptions for an administrator and a planner position.

Weiers said he could have an administrator job description ready for the Tuesday, April 14 council meeting, but a job description for a planner position may take longer.

Weiers said he could also chart a course for how the council might implement the creation of a new position.

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