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BE must find $80K to replenish fire fund

By Staff | Feb 6, 2009

While the Blue Earth City Council ponders what cuts will need to be made to the 2009 budget, they will also have to increase one budget item to the tune of $80,000.

City Administrator Kathy Bailey told the council about a problem in the fire department equipment fund.

“There was an equity account which was moved into the general fund,” Bailey said. “When the fire department expenses went over budget, that money was used.”

The problem is, she explained, the funds belonged to a township fire department fund, and were designated for equipment.

“Basically, we spent someone else’s money, and we need to put it back,” Bailey told the council.

That amount is $40,000 to replenish the fund. But Bailey said an additional $40,000 is going to be needed to cover the cash flow in the fire department budget.

“Are you proposing we do this all in one year?” Councilman Rick Scholtes asked. Bailey said yes, she wants the 2009 budget adjusted to cover this amount.

“The reason is, I have to go meet with the township boards, and I want to explain that this was a mistake and we are going to make it right,” she said.

The townships pay into a joint equipment fund each year, and this money should have been in a dedicated fund, like the street account, and wasn’t, Bailey said.

Council members discussed ways to increase funds going into the fire department budget, including making a charge for each fire call, or charging for equipment losses, and materials used.

“What did Kerry do after their fire,” Councilman Dick Maher asked. He was told Kerry paid $13,000 to the fire department, mainly to cover damaged equipment.

Bailey said many communities charge a flat fee, plus extra for equipment losses, and material used, such as foam.

“They also charge for cleaning up spills at accident sites, and things like that,” she said.

The discussion came at a work session, and no action was taken immediately.

“We will have to continue to look at this along with budget cuts,” Mayor Rob Hammond said.

The council continued to look at routine expense items as they search for areas to reduce the budget.

One item during Monday’s meeting was a contract with Bolton and Menk, the city’s engineering firm.

It called for an increase in several of the items the firm charges the city for. The base cost of $32,064 covers the first 16 hours of service each month.

Councilmen Glenn Gaylord and Les Wiborg both questioned the increase in cost, and suggested getting quotes from other firms.

Scholtes argued that there are projects in the works for this year, and he didn’t want to delay them by trying to switch engineering firms.

Councilman John Huisman agreed. He suggested that it was too late this year to call for quotes, but said it could be done later this year for 2010.

A motion to approve the engineer’s contract passed 4-2 with Gaylord and Wiborg voting no.

It wasn’t the only disagreement among council members on Monday night.

Councilman Maher scolded Wiborg for dealing with issues that were not in his ward.

“If there is a problem in Ward I, call me or Huisman,” Maher told Wiborg, “and we will take care of it.”

Mayor Hammond also said council members, especially Wiborg, are making too many calls to City Hall and trying to micro-manage.

“If it is an issue, the whole council needs to deal with it and I will call a special meeting,” Hammond said.