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Willmar, Minn., finance panel to consider 2012 budget, levy Monday

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WILLMAR -- The Willmar City Council's Finance Committee will be looking for money next week in the mayor's proposed 2012 budget for the $23,200 contract for the airport's fixed-base operator. Funding was inadvertently omitted from the proposed budget.

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However, city officials say the contract with Maximum Cruise Aviation to provide certain airport services is important and that funding will probably be taken from another budget area.

Maximum Cruise has a number of airport duties, according to City Administrator Charlene Stevens. The FBO, as it is also known, issues notices about runway conditions and runway closings, monitors and inspects the runway, replaces runway and taxiway lights, shovels snow, mows and trims the grass, and is the on-site contact with pilots and guests.

The FBO sets landing and ground movement traffic patterns, is responsible for routine building maintenance and monitoring systems and has knowledge of the aviation industry. Since the city no longer has a full-time manager at the airport, the fixed-base operator provides an important service for the city, according to Stevens.

She doesn't know why the contract was not budgeted and said there was no intention of leaving it out, but she recommends it be funded.

Money will have to be found, said Denis Anderson, committee chairman. If that goes in, then something else will have to come out, he said.

The committee will act on the funding dilemma at 5 p.m. Monday in the chambers at the Municipal Utilities Building. In addition, the committee will make a recommendation on the proposed $31,683,222 budget and the proposed $3,992,734 property tax levy.

The budget and levy will be sent to the full council for consideration at the truth in taxation hearing Dec. 5.

The committee has held a number of budget discussions since Mayor Frank Yanish proposed his budget in late August.

Among the discussion items was a request from Let's Go Fishing of Willmar for $10,000 per year over five years, beginning in 2012. The request didn't make it in time for the budgeting process, according to Stevens. Anderson says the council could put any amount in there for as long as the council desires.

A couple of items -- railroad quiet zones and storm water improvements -- won't be funded in 2012, but officials are keeping them in mind for 2013.

Some residents, who are unhappy with train whistles, want the council to establish quiet zones at local railroad crossings.

Others want the city to undertake improvements that will alleviate storm water flooding caused by heavy rain.

Officials acknowledge those issues are important but there's no money in the 2012 budget and citizens will probably have to wait a year until Yanish, city staff and the council consider the 2013 budget.

Stevens says quiet zones and storm water improvements are on the city's "watch list.'' Stevens says the city hasn't necessarily identified funding because fully scaled projects have not yet been identified.

More than two years ago, former City Public Works Director Mel Odens recommended a quiet zone project at Trott Avenue Southwest be funded in the 2013 street improvement program. Train whistles would not be needed at a quiet zone if gates or medians are installed that prevent traffic from crossing the tracks.

Yanish says the city has been discussing the issue with Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway's main office in Houston and with local railroad officials. "It's really in the early planning stages,'' he says.

Stevens says there has been much discussion about storm water. She noted a study has been done and recommendations have been received from the Storm Water Task Force.

"It's an important issue for the community but we have not in the 2012 budget either in the general operating or the capital outlay (budget) identified specific projects and allocated specific funding to them at this time,'' she says.

"But it doesn't mean that we've forgotten these items. It just means they are on the planning horizon and are likely to be items that you see in future capital outlays and planning.''

Another item on the 2013 planning horizon is a quint, which is a combination fire department pumper and ladder truck. The truck, estimated at $640,000, would provide a second elevated master stream to put water on higher buildings and extend the useful life of the current ladder truck, according to Fire Chief Marv Calvin.

Stevens says the 2012 budget is trying to catch up with equipment and vehicle purchases that were delayed when the amount of state aid to local governments was reduced during the past couple of years after budgets and levies had already been set. She said the city accounted for lost revenue by reducing expenses, such as vehicle and equipment replacement.

"In essence you kind of kick the can down the road, maybe try to get a little longer life out of a vehicle or to try to stretch out a project. It eventually does and will catch up with the city,'' Stevens told the council during an Oct. 17 work session.

"We'll look at that when we start looking forward to the 2013 budget and capital projects and trying to develop more of a comprehensive capital improvement plan over the next five years and showing what our real capital needs are, infrastructure as well as equipment and see how we have deferred some of that,'' Stevens said.

"We've allocated some additional dollars to capital outlay to try to catch up and do some additional projects.''

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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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