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BE says yes to filling one position, no to police officer

By Staff | May 4, 2009

Dick Maher

After postponing many decisions at their regular meeting the week before, the Blue Earth City Council made several major budget related votes at a special council meeting this past Monday.

Among the decisions, the council:

– Could not get a second to a motion to fill a vacant police officer position at this time.

– Did vote to fill a vacant position in the public works department.

-Voted to make annual donations to the Blue Earth Chamber ($5,000), Faribault County Historical Society ($3,250) and Summer Recreation ($2,000).

– Voted to not charge a rental fee to the Go Kart track operators for this season.

Despite an impassioned plea from Councilman Dick Maher, the rest of the council failed to second his motion to hire a police officer to replace one who recently resigned.

Maher said the police department once had seven officers, and is now down to five.

Councilman John Huisman called the recent resignation an opportunity to see if the force can operate with five officers – at least until the next round of state cuts is announced in June or September.

“This is not cutting a position,” Huisman said. “This is waiting to see if we can afford to hire someone.”

Councilman Glenn Gaylord concurred, and added that he was not in favor of hiring anyone and later in the year having to lay the person off due to lack of funds.

Maher disagreed, saying the need for another officer is obvious, due to how much the police cover.

“Plus, we will save on the budget because of a lower wage to a new officer, a two month delay in hiring, and saving on overtime costs,” Maher said. He estimated that even if the council hired a new officer, they would still be saving $15,000 from the current budget.Mayor Rob Hammond commented that much more may need to be trimmed than $15,000.

“We have had to cut $260,000 so far, and may have that much more to cut out for next year,” he said.

The council indicated they wanted the police chief to take a shift during the day, to make up for only having five officers. Currently there are two police officers on duty except for the hours from 5-9 p.m. and 3-7 a.m. when only one is on duty.

The council said they still want 24-hour police coverage in town.

Police Chief Dean Vereide said this will be difficult, due to his already filling in for officers who go on vacation or maternity leave.

“We will still have to cover the shifts,” Vereide told the council. “That will involve part time officers and overtime.”

When it came time to decide whether to hire a new public works employee, some of the same arguments came in to play.

Several council members expressed a desire to ‘get by’ with a couple of seasonal employees and discuss hiring a full time person in September.

City Administrator Kathy Bailey said the concern is having enough trained personnel to operate the trucks and heavy equipment.

Maher again questioned why the same standards didn’t apply to both the police and public works departments.

In the end the vote was 3-2 to hire a new employee. Mayor Hammond and Councilmen Wiborg and Huisman voted yes. Councilmen Scholtes and Gaylord voted no. Councilman Maher abstained.

The vote to fund the donations to the chamber, historical society and summer rec program was not that close, as it passed unanimously.

The vote to not charge the Go Kart group any rent for the raceway for this year was also unanimous, but came after some heated debate.

Councilman Gaylord spoke in favor of nixing the rent fee of $750 for this year, and forgiving the past due amount of rent.

After several other councilmen, and the mayor, spoke in favor of keeping the past due amount on the books, Gaylord amended his motion to just forget the current year’s rent.

“These people put a lot of work into the track, and they bring a lot of people into town who shop and eat and stay in the motels,” Gaylord said. “We don’t charge anyone else for use of our park areas, why charge them?”

Councilman Maher and Scholtes pointed out that the group had signed a contract, and that document set the rental amount.

“They signed it, and they should be held to it,” Maher said.