BY STARRLA CRAY
WINSTED, MN Right now, Winsted residents pay a base sewer fee of $7.20 per month, plus $9.10 per thousand gallons.
But, by 2021, the base could be up to $13.84, with the sewer charge per thousand gallons at $17.48.
Winsted City Council members discussed this possibility at Tuesday’s work session, in their attempt to plan for upcoming expenses due to required wastewater treatment facility upgrades.
Initially, city staff recommended a 6 percent sewer rate increase for 2016, with an 11.5 percent increase in subsequent years, until the fund balance reaches a profit in 2021. (Rates are set by the council each year, and can be raised or lowered as needed.)
Council Member Max Fasching said he would rather see the 11.5 percent increase start right away, for consistency.
“There really is no wrong answer,” City Administrator Dan Tienter said. “The fund balance can support either approach.”
“No matter what we end up doing, people aren’t going to be happy about it,” Mayor Steve Stotko added.
Water rates, on the other hand, are projected to rise just 2 percent in 2016.
The budget will be discussed again at the Tuesday, Dec. 1 work session, and the 2016 property tax levy will be finalized Tuesday, Dec. 15.
More help at city hall
One item city staff recommended for the 2016 budget is the addition of a deputy clerk, at a total cost of nearly $60,000 per year, including wages and benefits. Council members expressed apprehension about adding another full-time staff member.
“Is there an absolute need for this position?” Fasching asked.
Tienter responded that, no, the position is not an “absolute need,” but having another person would allow tasks to be completed in a “timely fashion.” He explained that everything is being accomplished, but staff is “overburdened.”
“As the complexity of the city grows, more time has to be spent on various areas,” he said.
A few examples of duties the new position would cover include coordinating elections, preparing public notices, preparing for council and commission meetings, attending meetings and recording minutes, and maintaining city data.
Currently, the city hires part-time help for $10 per hour on an as-needed basis. Council Member Bonnie Quast asked if it might be possible to hire a regular part-time person at this wage.
Fasching commented that even if the city increases the wage to $15 per hour, having a person work 20 hours per week with no benefits would be “a fraction of the cost” of a full-time employee.
The council plans to discuss the matter again at a future meeting.
Also in the budget
Various other items are in the proposed budget for 2016, a few of which are summarized below. Having an item listed in the budget doesn’t necessarily mean the city will spend the funds, but it is a way for the city to plan for potential expenses.
• Salaries and benefits: Health insurance for city employees is expected to increase about 4.5 percent, while dental insurance will decrease about 9.7 percent. The preliminary budget includes a single-step salary increase for each employee. Quast requested that Tienter provide details at the December meeting regarding the city’s pay scale and what the increases would mean.
• Streets: The Kingsley Street area improvement project is budgeted for 2016. In 2017, tentative plans are to complete a bituminous overlay on Pheasant Run, Hunter Circle, and Harvest Circle; and to improve Second Avenue to Kingsley Street.
• Sidewalks and trails: The budget sets aside $2,500 for trail improvements, and $2,500 for sidewalk repairs.
• Fire department: Replacement of an aerial engine, a generator, and turnout gear is budgeted for 2016.
• Facilities: Security enhancements for city hall are budgeted at $10,000 for 2016, along with $2,000 for other facility improvements.
• Parks: The 2016 park budget includes funding for deferred maintenance, Campbell Field improvements, and general park system improvements based on a master plan that is being developed.