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BE stays with five officers

By Staff | Aug 10, 2009

The Blue Earth City Council decided to make some changes in the 2009 budget cuts proposed by City Administrator Kathy Bailey.

They reinstated two proposed cuts to the public works departments and the municipal liquor store which would have involved a transfer of funds to the general fund of the budget.

To cover those moves, the council decided to once again cut a proposal to hire a sixth police officer.

Mayor Rob Hammond said he was uncomfortable with making any transfers from revenue generating operations, such as the liquor store, into the general fund. Other council members agreed.Bailey said that in order to balance the budget, cuts would need to be made somewhere to compensate for the two council actions.

Earlier this year the council had delayed hiring a sixth officer after a resignation from the force.

Bailey had reinstated the $57,500 sixth officer cost back into the 2009 budget at last Monday’s regular council meeting.

Councilman John Huisman cited a long list of reasons why he felt the police department should be kept to five officers.

“The auditor said we need to be cautious in our spending at this time,” Huisman said. “The state is in shaky financial condition and we can count on them cutting our aid again.”

Huisman also said that despite the fact Blue Earth did not get a COPS grant to hire an additional officer, they are still in the running for it, and could add a sixth officer if they get the grant.

He added that having a five-person police force had not really been given a good test yet.

Councilman Dick Maher disagreed, saying the citizens of Blue Earth want 24-hour police protection, and wondered how that could happen with only five officers.

Bailey explained how many area departments use on-call time as a way to get additional coverage. Huisman cited the fact that part-time officers are often used to fill in schedules, even by the sheriff’s department.

Maher, however, said he was strongly opposed to leaving the position open.

Although no formal vote was taken on the matter, Bailey said she understood the majority of the council wanted to leave the sixth officer on the budget cut list.

“That is not to say you couldn’t decide to reinstate it on the 2010 budget,” she added.

That budget was also discussed on Monday, with Bailey saying she had met with department heads, but had not heard from all of the councilmen as to their wishes.

Some items for capital improvement were mentioned, such as new tornado sirens and several improvements to Putnam Park – a shelter, basketball court and pool items.

But the council expressed a feeling of futility with formulating a ‘wish list.’

“What’s the use,” Huisman said. “The list is pointless since we are having to make budget cuts each year.”

The option, Bailey said, is for the council to raise the local levy to gain back funds which were cut by the state. Although the city has a levy limit restriction, they are allowed to levy back lost revenue due to state cuts in local government aid.

The council also started discussions on salaries for 2010. Although Hammond mentioned a possible 3-percent across the board increase, Huisman asked if it might be time to institute a salary freeze.

One topic dealing with salaries was the step levels being used for the city administrator.

Hammond said the levels actually being used are lower than the amounts on the scale the council put in place.

Bailey was hired at Step 4, which is listed at $5,949 per month. Her contract, however, calls for a salary of $5,761.

Having worked in Blue Earth for a year, she now qualifies for moving to Step 5 which is listed at $6,299 for the city administrator. However, Bailey had proposed a lower step increase to $6,124, an amount in between what she is paid now and the regular Step 5 amount.

Councilman Maher said he favored moving her salary up to the regular Step 5 amount. However, Huisman made a motion to table the whole matter to the next meeting for more detailed discussion.

The council also went into closed session to have Bailey’s one year review.

Mayor Hammond reported that in general Bailey received all good marks from the council for her first year performance.

“She had higher marks in some of the 10 categories,” he said. “Her organization and budget skills were rated higher, and some communication and work delegation areas were rated lower.”