NB council pares down preliminary budget over three meetings

There’s been a common theme over three budget workshop meetings in North Branch: cut, cut, cut.

During the meetings July 25, 26 and 30, Finance Director Richard Hill presented the council the option to slash $432,534 from next year’s proposed budget, which would have equated to a property-tax levy 3.92 percent higher than this year’s.

Over the meetings, the council came to a general consensus to make most of the suggested cuts, which would lead to a 4.37-percent increase.

The total proposed levy is $3,950,161, but that amount could change.

Mayor Amy Oehlers was absent for all three meetings and council member Ron Lindquist was absent for the July 25 meeting.

Theoretically, if the council reversed its stance and took none of Hill’s suggestions into account, the preliminary property-tax levy could be set at 15.35 percent higher than 2012.

State law requires cities to have preliminary property-tax levies established by Sept. 15.

Once that initial amount is approved, it can be pared down before final levies are certified by the state in mid-to-late December, but levies cannot be increased after the preliminary amount is set.

Debt levy

Following the trio of budget meetings, Hill explained the proposed 4.37-percent increase is due to the fact that the city has to pay down various bonds, and funds have to be levied for the industrial/commercial portion of the city’s debt, which is about $1.6 million.

Hill said the city’s debt has increased by about $700,000 since 2009, but next year’s general fund budget is actually proposed at 1.05 percent lower than 2012.

“This is a bare bones, no frills budget,” he said.

Over the past five years, Hill said the city’s levy has been right around 3.9 percent.

Public works

On July 25, Public Works Director Shawn Williams gave the council a presentation about which projects his department plans to complete next year, and where budget adjustments needed to be made.

“Basically, where we’re at right now is we’re trying to maintain everything at status quo,” he said, noting that numerous street repair projects had to be reduced because of the city’s tight budget.

Public works originally had requested $16,000 for road gravel, but that amount was reduced to $6,000.

A total of $50,000 was cut from the seal coating budget.

Additionally, the pavement crack-sealing budget dropped from $4,300 to $3,700.

After the initial cuts, the total proposed public works budget is $724,600, which is about 1.9 percent higher than last year, Hill said.

Reductions were also made in other areas, but public works is planning to complete at least one major project: namely, the replacement of roads snaking through the Castleberry Ponds development.

Williams said that project started six years ago.

In addition to its normal maintenance duties, Williams said public works also hopes to resurface two baseball fields at Harder Park.

“We have projects ready, we just don’t have the funding to do it,” Williams said.

Fire Department 

At the July 26 workshop, North Branch Fire Chief Kevin Grote detailed the status of the city’s fire department.

Like public works, the fire department is running on a lean budget and had to forgo some projects Grote said would benefit the department.

The department’s initial proposed budget was about $304,000, but the council is likely going to cut $70,466, bringing the department’s final proposed budget down about $62,000 below the 2012 level.

Grote noted it would be nice to replace some of the 10-plus-year-old computers at the fire hall, but the budget likely won’t allow for that.

Additionally, an item not addressed in next year’s budget that will likely have to be looked into soon is the replacement of vehicles.

The department is short one pumper truck, which means about 1,500 gallons per minute less of water could be used in the event of a substantial fire, Grote noted.

Council member Ron Lindquist said the council would have to wait until next year’s budgeting process to possibly address the issue because there simply isn’t time or money to do it this year, but council member Kathy Blomquist stressed the importance of keeping firefighting equipment up to date.

“I have had fire department volunteers come up to me and say, “We need this. We’re putting our lives in jeopardy because we don’t have it,’” she said.

Police Department

North Branch Police Chief Dan Meyer presented the council with his department’s proposed budget at the July 30 meeting.

One big cut from the police department was its vehicle replacement program. The chief had proposed the city replace a 2002 Ford Explorer with over 115,000 miles for a price of around $32,000, but the council decided it was best to postpone a vehicle purchase.

Meyer also requested funding for the police department to be involved in events like the Bike Roedo and Night to Unite.

The council seemed affable toward providing the money for police to do the Bike Rodeo – which is an event where police teach kids bike safety – but couldn’t come to agreement on police involvement in other community events.

Once the discussion was finished, the proposed police department budget was $1,180,000, which is about $20,000 higher than last year.

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