Willmar mayor cites ‘blowback’ from proposed budget cuts
WILLMAR — Willmar Mayor Frank Yanish says he’s receiving “blowback’’ because of some of the cuts he’s suggesting in his proposed 2014 city budget.
Yanish wrote about the reaction in his Mayor’s Update on the city website Oct. 15. The reaction stems mainly from suggested $228,000 in across-the-board cuts in city-paid staff memberships, dues, travel, training and professional services.
City department heads have summarized what they believe are the benefits of city-funded employee organization memberships, training and certifications, and what they believe will be the detriments of those cuts.
The council’s Finance Committee has spent two months discussing the budget and will meet Nov. 19 to decide on funding requests from community organizations, on the proposed cuts and recommend a budget to the full council for a hearing Dec. 2.
Yanish wrote that the 2014 budget should be settled soon.
“I do want the public to know that I am NOT opposed to training and updating one’s skills, as I believe that is a very vital part to each person’s job and a service to our citizens,’’ Yanish wrote.
He asks residents to call and express their thoughts and ideas to their council representative. If someone doesn’t know who their council representative is, they can call City Hall at 320-235-4913. He said a copy of the proposed budget is available at City Hall.
“We will have to wait and see how this all plays out,’’ he wrote, and he thanked citizens for their comments and for listening.
In an interview Thursday, Yanish said blowback is coming from staff and from some of the people who he said “have it all their way all these years.’’
For example, he said, Councilwoman Audrey Nelsen has been “pretty verbal about it’’ and has asked Yanish at several committee and council meetings to justify the cuts.
Yanish suggests the council justify why the cuts should not be made.
“I can explain why I cut if somebody can explain why they want it back in there,’’ Yanish said.
The mayor said he wanted to make some cuts someplace but could not make cuts in wages and benefits paid to employees because of union contracts.
“There’s some areas I would like to cut, but I can’t cut because of the unions,’’ he said.
The Tribune asked if those cuts would be a good thing. Yanish said he wasn’t sure.
“But I do know that some people are getting paid more than the private sector, a lot more than the private sector, for the same type of work,’’ he said.
Yanish has been using the Mayor’s Update to state his case regarding the budget. The mayor said he gets comments as a result of the updates, but he also gets comments from people stopping at his tire shop every day who support his position.
“People do stop in here, but usually when they stop in here, it’s a positive thing,’’ Yanish said.
The blowback issue surfaced during the Finance Committee budget discussion on Oct. 28 after Nelsen asked Yanish, who was present, if he has any reconsideration or additional documentation on how and why he was making those cuts.
“Will we get that prior to the 19th?’’ Nelsen asked.
Yanish said the council will not.
“First of all, I’m getting tired of being accused of these things. You’re accusing me of some things that I don’t appreciate and I really don’t like it,’’ Yanish said. “You’re accusing me of, you keep asking for clarification of our proposed budget. What do you do as a council person? I made the proposal. I did exactly what I was supposed to do. You do what you’re supposed to do and do something with what I proposed. Will you do that?’’
“We will,’’ Nelsen said. “But I guess I was asking for … you have no justification for the cuts that you had … ’’
“I have no justification,’’ Yanish said. “You have justification for keeping things in there?’’
Councilman Denis Anderson, committee chairman, said the request was for Yanish’s reasons and Anderson asked if council members were missing anything.
Yanish said he gets the feeling that “this council member (referring to Nelsen) thinks that I’m opposed to any training and I very strongly favor training. But there’s a lot of other things that I can’t cut that I would cut if I could. But I cannot because of unions. So when we’re talking about picking on little things, I have to pick on little things because the large things are unionized that I cannot pick on.’’
“We’re not going to make this personal,’’ Anderson said.
Yanish said he’s receiving blowback from the city administrator “just by what she hasn’t said or what she has … not said to me.’’
Councilman Bruce DeBlieck, a Finance Committee member, said he didn’t think that council suggestions or budget changes is necessarily blowback.
“It’s not personal,’’ he said.
“That’s us doing our job,’’ said Anderson.
City Administrator Charlene Stevens said staff is just trying to provide information on the impact of the reductions.
“That’s all we’ve asked staff to do,’’ said Anderson “I don’t believe that staff has made any recommendations one way or the other. They’ve given us information.’’
Nelsen said she believes the community has the right to understand the proposed budget.
“And that is all that I have asked for. If the mayor did it, explain it. If he had help doing it, then help us understand what it was. I understand he’s telling us to put it back together. And I think this community deserves to have a better understanding of why we are going through two months of trying to justify cuts that someone can’t explain,’’ she said.