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The Willmar City Council listens to a presentation Monday night. Tribune photo by Gary Miller.

Funding for leadership, integration programs cut by Willmar City Council

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WILLMAR — Attempts to restore funding requests for leadership and integration programs in Mayor Frank Yanish’s 2013 city budget failed to gain support from a majority of Willmar City Council members.

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During discussion Monday night to finalize the mayor’s $31.7 million budget, Doug Reese, Denis Anderson and Bruce DeBlieck tried to persuade the other five council members to restore $1,000 for the Leadership Perspectives program.

The Finance Committee last week recommended a proposed budget that had removed the funding. The council had until Dec. 17 to approve the budget.

The Leadership Perspectives program was originally among eight programs and agencies sharing about $111,000 in discretionary city funding in Yanish’s budget.

Reese, Anderson and DeBlieck said removing the funding, which was last provided in 2009, would send the message that the council did not want to work in partnership with Leadership Perspectives program sponsor Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce.

They said graduates have been tapped to serve on various committees and commissions.

“We’re sending a message we don’t want to be collaborating with them,’’ said DeBlieck. “One thousand dollars is not a big amount, but it is something we have participated in for a number of years.’’

“We’ve gotten our share of value out of it,’’ said Reese. “This is a valued resource for the city.’’

Council members Ron Christianson, Steve Ahmann, Tim Johnson, Jim Dokken and Rick Fagerlie favored removing the funding. They said the Chamber receives dues from other entities associated with city government. They said the Chamber doesn’t need the money and they said the program, which they support, won’t go away.

“I don’t think whether or not it’s funded by taxpayer funds that it’s going to go away. I agree it’s only a thousand dollars. The financial information we had from the Chamber (is) they don’t need the money. I don’t really see where this motion would cause that program to cease from going forward on its own momentum,’’ said Johnson.

Christianson said taxpayer dollars pay Chamber membership dues for the city Housing and Redevelopment Authority, and Community Education and Recreation. Christianson said the money could be better spent on street repairs.

“We didn’t say we don’t approve of the program and don’t want to partner with them. We didn’t say that,’’ he said.

Fagerlie said the city should have quit funding it a few years ago when funding was dropped for the community band and the Celebrate Art! Celebrate Coffee! Festival. “Those things really help the citizens of Willmar. The Chamber is doing it for business members, but we shouldn’t have to pay tax dollars,’’ he said.

Ahmann said he wants city contributions to be based on need. “I’m not saying the program is bad. We have to spend dollars wisely,’’ he said.

Christianson, Ahmann, Johnson, Dokken and Fagerlie voted to drop funding, and Reese, DeBlieck and Anderson voted to restore it.

Also, Reese and DeBlieck tried unsuccessfully to increase funding for community partner West Central Integration Collaborative. Yanish recommended the request be reduced from $42,000 to $21,000.

Reese offered a motion to increase the property tax levy by $21,000, which would provide additional funding for the collaborative.

“This is a program that helps our community even beyond the city. It helps in the school district and in our county. It’s a partnership of school districts and other taxing jurisdictions. We’ve talked as the council being able to assist our new residents to understand our practices, policies and ordinances,’’ said Reese.

Christianson said the collaborative receives $1.244 million from the state, of which $1.14 million is spent on 26 employees.

“I know they do good. I don’t think our $42,000 makes a dent in what they’re doing. I would say take it all out. We have a better place to put it,’’ he said.

DeBlieck said the collaborative educates people on minority issues. He said $1.2 million is spent to educate students. The city’s funding assists downtown minority economic development.

DeBlieck said Willmar has a great vibrant downtown and people are afraid to go downtown because they are not aware of what the minority community is doing.

Yanish said he’s been called a racist “and everything else’’ for reducing the request.

“To me, the $1.2 million is a lot of money to educate the people to go downtown,’’ Yanish said.

DeBlieck said Yanish was missing the point.

Yanish asked if the city was getting its money’s worth by the top officer receiving $80,000 a year with benefits.

“I’m not going to respond that,’’ said DeBlieck.

The council first defeated the $21,000 levy increase, with Christianson, Anderson, Ahmann, Johnson, Dokken and Fagerlie voting against, and Reese and DeBlieck voting in favor.

The council then set the 2013 levy at $4,139,734, with Christianson, Anderson, Ahmann, Johnson, Dokken and Fagerlie in favor, and Reese and DeBlieck against.

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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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