By Starrla Cray
Council aims to lower the 7.5-percent hike before final approval in December
WINSTED, MN After two meetings dedicated entirely to 2017 budget planning last week, Winsted City Council members approved a 7.5 percent preliminary levy increase Thursday afternoon.
Sometime before the final levy is approved in December, the council plans to meet for a special work session to go through the budget’s larger items line-by-line, with the hope of finding ways to cut costs or increase efficiencies.
“It’s a starting point; it’s not an ending point, necessarily,” Council Member Tom Ollig said.
The council’s main reason for increasing the levy is to help fund street repairs for the next five years.
City Administrator Dan Tienter provided options for how the council could fund these projects, including the potential addition of fees. If fees were introduced, the levy would have gone up by about 5 percent instead of 7.5 percent.
Fees would be the same for each unit in town, whether residential or commercial. By the end of 2021, the fees would generate $509,193 of additional revenue.
Council members said they are not in favor of fees, because “once you put them in, they never go away,” and because people who can’t afford to pay as much are paying the same as those who are wealthy.
Another option would be to cut expenses.
“I still think there are some ways to get money out of the current budget,” Mayor Steve Stotko said.
As a few examples, he mentioned new items that were added to the budget this year, such as about $30,000 for lakefront promenade improvements, $12,500 for tree trimming, and an extra $2,000 for the library.
He suggested taking a portion of those funds, and reallocating them to street improvements.
Council Member Bonnie Quast asked Tienter if city staff would be able to give advice on the best places to make cuts with the least impact to residents.
Tienter said staff already does that on a regular basis, as the current budget includes $40,000 of “cuts” that were reallocated to other areas of the budget. He added that staff could reexamine the budget, though, to try to find additional efficiencies.
In other matters, the council authorized Tienter to execute a construction contract and approve a notice of award with Di-Mar Construction in the amount of $6,819,606.
The council also adopted a resolution providing for the issuance and sale of $4,865,000 general obligation bonds for the wastewater treatment facility.
During the open forum portion of the meeting, Ron Mills, who lives at 621 Northgate, complained about four city-related issues.
First, he voiced his displeasure with the way the city handled drainage problems affecting his property.
“Somebody dropped the ball,” he said, noting that the issue should have been handled a year ago.
Mills appeared before the council in August 2015, and again in August 2016. He said the drainage issues have been going on for 35 years.
In August 2016, Public Works Supervisor Dave Meyer said a camera was used in the storm sewer area as far as it was able to reach, and the pipe was not broken or plugged.
Mills responded that a lot of water runs through one manhole. The city wasn’t able to locate the manhole at the time, and Council Member Tom Ollig requested that staff look at the city engineer’s data from the summer of 2015 and visit the property to investigate.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Tienter said staff hasn’t had any luck observing the problem during rainstorms, because the flow has either been too low or too high.
City engineer Jake Saulsbury’s initial recommendation is to upsize the pipe, but said he will need more information before finalizing the recommendation.
The council directed staff to televise the line, and report back to Mills with the results.
After discussing the drainage issue, Mills a voiced a complaint about the city’s response to removing tree stumps after recent rainstorms.
“Why did [the holes] take so long to get filled?” he asked, noting that it took one month. “That’s a huge liability for the city.”
Tienter responded that stockpiles of dirt from excavating companies were too wet to handle due to the storms, and the companies weren’t able to sell the dirt to the city.
“Finally, after doing some more calling, on Sept. 13, public works staff reached out to RAM Excavating,” Tienter said, explaining that the company has dirt nearby and was able to sell some of it to fill the stumps.
Another issue Mills brought up was the fact that the curbs are no longer painted yellow around fire hydrants. Tienter explained that sometime between 2009 and 2011, during “drastic” cuts to Local Government Aid, the council chose to eliminate this area of curb painting as a cost-saving measure. He added that if the council chooses to, it could allocate money to this in the future.
A fourth issue Mills brought up was tree trimming.
Ollig responded by saying, “We have initiated a plan, starting next year, to take care of one-seventh of the trees in town every year, and then after the seventh year, go back.”
Odds and ends
In other business, the council:
• appointed Ryan Chatterton as captain three of the Winsted Volunteer Fire Department with a pro-rated stipend, to fill the vacant position. His term will expire the end of 2017.
• terminated a land lease agreement with Michael and Sonja Schulz for hangar 25 at the Winsted Municipal Airport; and authorized a new lease with KSH, LLC for that hangar.