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Finance panel hears from dept. heads about impact of LGA cuts

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Finance panel hears from dept. heads about impact of LGA cuts
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WILLMAR -- Recently completed discussions with department heads have given the City Council's Finance Committee a better idea how budgetary reductions will affect community services next year.

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Committee members will use the information they've gathered over the past month to formulate a recommendation to the City Council on Mayor Les Heitke's proposed $22,086,858 budget for 2010. The committee will make the recommendation at a Nov. 23 meeting. The council will receive the recommendation on Dec. 7.

Committee Chairman Denis Anderson suggested the discussions.

"We hadn't had the department heads in before, and I just thought it would be a good idea for them to have an opportunity to explain to the committee what has changed in their budgets and what impact those changes may have on their services to the community,'' Anderson said. " ... I think we learned a lot in talking directly to the department heads."

The discussions also gave department heads a chance to explain how Local Government Aid cuts will affect their budgets, he said.

LGA will account for 18.3 percent -- the second largest source of revenue -- in the proposed 2010 budget. In the 2009 budget, LGA accounted for 22.1 percent of all revenue and was the largest single source of revenue.

For 2010, LGA is budgeted at $4,052,790, down from $4,596,086 in 2009.

The revenue from the state aid is down due to "unallotments," the term used when the governor exercises his authority to reduce spending to avoid a deficit. The city had an unallotment of $316,537 in December 2008, a $269,043 unallotment in 2009 and will have an estimated $620,785 unallotment in 2010.

"We need to better understand the budget when we're facing these significant cuts in LGA,'' said Anderson.

With the cuts in mind, Anderson wanted to know about a potential decline in services.

"That was one of the things that I asked them all, all the department heads -- will this have any significant impact to the general public -- and for the most part I don't think the public will see a difference in their level of service that they've come to expect,'' Anderson said.

Fire Chief Marv Calvin indicated at a previous meeting that like all other departments, the city's Fire Department has proposed a budget at or below 2009 expenditures, and he indicated Willmar residents could expect to see no reduction in firefighting services.

Public Works Director Mel Odens said budgets for his department stayed at or below 2009 expenditures with little in the way of capital improvements. Park development includes only $22,000 in capital outlay.

Community Education and Recreation Director Steve Brisendine said park development services are being curtailed and proposed expenditures for the Community Center, Aquatic Center and Civic Center have all been reduced.

On Thursday, the committee ended its discussions with a look at the portion of the budget known as non-departmental expenditures, which Heitke reduced from $943,150 in 2009 to $887,000 in 2010.

These expenses include funding for such things as congressional lobbyist David Turch, Meals on Wheels, Design Center, and a variety of civic promotions such as Willmar Fests and Humane Society.

Money for civic promotions was cut from $123,150 in 2009 to $51,000 in 2010. For 2010, the mayor kept $10,000 for the Humane Society in the second year of a five-year commitment of $50,000 toward the society's new building; $25,000 for Willmar Fests (unchanged from 2009); $1,000 for community leadership; and $15,000 to the Baseball Boosters to help repay a $90,000 stadium loan.

The mayor eliminated $15,000 for downtown beautification, $17,000 for news and marketing, $150 for arts and humanities, $15,000 for Christmas decorations, and $10,000 for the Child Guide Program.

The mayor's proposed budget did not include funding for large capital projects such as quiet zones and downtown bypass opening.

City Administrator Michael Schmit said department heads trimmed about $1 million from the general fund budget. He said essential services will continue, but capital projects and equipment will not be purchased.

"We've made a concerted effort to make sure that we're able to provide the essential basic services that the people in Willmar have become accustomed to. We're making up for some of these reductions by better efficiencies, we think,'' he said.

"We're also extending the useful life of some of our equipment, cutting back on a lot of the capital projects that we would normally do in any given year.''

How long can the city continue to defer those purchases?

"We're hoping that the economic picture improves in the next year or two and we can get back on track because you cannot keep delaying all of this all the time without some consequences,'' he said.

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David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150
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