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City budget talks can be puzzling

September 11, 2011
by Chuck Hunt, Register Editor
It’s a bit of a puzzle.

I refer to the Blue Earth City Council meeting last Monday night.

While the council was discussing the budget and levy for next year, one thing was not discussed.

At all.

Even though City Administrator Kathy Bailey had included a budget for a local police department and hiring a local police chief, this part of the budget was not mentioned at all.

That might not be so unusual. After all, the City Council will more than likely spend portions of the next several meetings going through the budget, adding and subtracting items.

That is exactly what they did last year.

So, an argument could be made that a police budget line must be in the overall budget because whether Blue Earth operates their own department or contracts out for the service, they are still going to need $400,000 more or less, give or take) to do so.

Having a budget item for a local police force – and a local police chief – is not so strange looking at it in that way.

However, the odd thing is that in her notes explaining the budget, administrator Bailey says she and the city staff recommend that a local police force is the best way to go.

And, that it can actually save the city more money than contracting with Winnebago.

One of her comments is that if the City Council was in favor of going with Winnebago, that decision would have already been made.

And, it hasn’t been.

Not only was it not made last Monday night, it wasn’t even mentioned.

Not one councilman brought it up, not one questioned why Bailey made such a bold statement. Not one agreed or disagreed.

Nada.

It was strange.

Now, it is true that the council has stated in the past that they would make no decision on whether to have a local police department until after the negotiations with the police union have been completed.

And, it is true that those negotiations have not been completed (that we are aware of). Also true is that once again the meeting on Monday night was closed to the public to again discuss those police union negotiations.

But, wouldn’t at least one councilman have made at least a comment in passing about Bailey’s bold assertion that the city keep its own police force?

We’ll just have to wait and see if this topic is raised during one of the next meetings when the budget is examined and fine tuned.

I would certainly think that it would be.

The police department budget was not the only puzzler during the budget talks.

Councilman Rick Scholtes wondered what happened to $70,000. He recalled that amount had been set aside for the construction of a picnic shelter.

It was composed of a surplus in the 2011 budget when it was set last December.

The most reasonable assumption is that it disappeared due to the cuts in state aid.

The budget and levy talks are very confusing – to just about everyone.

That might be because it is a work in progress.

Bailey’s first draft of the budget actually showed a positive balance of over $94,000. That means it would be possible to lower the property tax levy for next year.

The council, however, decided they wanted to have funds available to do some of the many projects slashed in the past couple of years due to state cuts.

So, they voted to “possibly” raise the levy by 11 percent.

As I have pointed out in the past, it is a preliminary number.

In December, the final levy amount will actually be set.

It might be 11 percent. It won’t be more than that, because the council cannot raise it over that figure.

They can, however lower it, which is exactly what they did last year – down to 3 percent.

They could make it zero or even lower it from last year, but that is unlikely.

The city does need to keep its basic services in place and provide for a few other necessary items.

One I can think of is spending some money on paint for striping the streets and cross walks.

Most cities do that every year. Why can’t we?
 
 

 

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