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‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’

By Staff | Dec 11, 2011

“The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”

I was reminded of the old Clint Eastwood ‘spaghetti western’ classic after last Monday’s Blue Earth City Council meeting.

Let me explain.

The ‘Good’ from the meeting would be the property tax levy amount for next year.

The council had originally proposed an 11 percent increase in the levy for 2012.

Even when they set this amount, they knew they would never actually go this high. But, the state requires a preliminary levy be set first, with a final levy amount in December.

The council can go lower than the proposed amount, but not raise it any.

The Blue Earth council had indicated they would strive for no more than a 3 percent increase in the levy.

Last week we reported that the council was working on a budget that would need no levy increase at all.

But, at the meeting this past Monday the council did even better than that. Through some fine-tuning of the budget they were able to decrease the levy amount from last year, by 6 percent.

That is a pretty sweet deal for most property owners – a 17 percent swing, from an 11 percent increase to a 6 percent decrease.

The amazing part of this is the fact the council was still able to add in several items that each one of them had on a ‘wish list.’

As our story this week details, those items include extra police officers, paint striping and laptop computers.

This was all made possible because the big item on the wish list – a new $80,000 picnic shelter in Putnam Park – was removed from the general fund where it would cause the levy to increase.

Instead, on a close 4-3 vote, it was decided to fund the shelter with liquor store money.

The liquor store fund has enough money in it to pay off the new building in total at the end of 2012, and still have enough to pay for this shelter.

The council did debate this use of the profit of the liquor store. They also voiced a desire to still apply for a Department of Natural Resources grant to help pay for the shelter and also to solicit donations towards the project.

The city of Blue Earth will be building two new shelters this next year.

One is already slated for Steinberg Nature Park. It is being funded through a large donation from the Steinberg estate and from a DNR grant.

Now for the ‘Bad.’

The council did add back into the budget a cut to the police department of $14,000 to cover the cost of having two officers on duty on Friday and Saturday nights.

However, they did not add back any funds to cover the cost of hiring another police officer.

The department, which once had six officers to cover the 24-7 schedule, is now down to four.

That means an awful lot of overtime and part time help is needed to continue to have constant police protection for the city.

It just seems as though instead of cutting the levy back 6 percent from what it was this current year, the council could have left it the same with no increase.

That would have left enough funds in the budget to do something such as, I don’t know, hire another cop.

Or something.

The ‘Ugly’ is, of course, the city’s seeming inability to hire a new police chief.

It was obvious at Monday’s work session that there are some serious disagreements about this matter by the individual council members.

Some want to go back to square one and talk with the sheriff department again. Others want to have more input – a lot more input – into the hiring process.

Right now, they have virtually none. The city administrator culls the list of applicants down for interviewing purposes, and an independent panel of the administrator and area law enforcement personnel do the interviews.

Then the panel makes a recommendation – to the mayor. Apparently after that it is up to the mayor to appoint the new chief, with the council voting simply to approve the appointment – or not.

I guess I can’t blame those councilmen who feel uncomfortable with saying OK to the hiring of a new chief without knowing anything about it – such as who applied, who was interviewed and who wasn’t and what kind of background does this new chief have.

As I said before, the selection process seems as though it is sputtering along and has now come to a complete stop.

Maybe it is time for an engine overhaul.