Yanish walks out of finance meeting; panel approves 2014 levy and budget for city of Willmar
WILLMAR — Mayor Frank Yanish walked out of the Willmar City Council’s Finance Committee meeting Tuesday night after he and committee member Audrey Nelsen expressed differing opinions on the benefits, or detriments, of council members and city staff attending out-of-town conferences.
Yanish left the meeting during discussion of his proposal to cut $228,000 in dues, subscriptions, organization memberships, travel and training from his 2014 budget. The committee later reinstated the reductions.
The reductions had included eliminating the $35,150 in annual dues to the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities.
Yanish spoke against paying the dues and Nelsen spoke in favor of paying dues. Yanish interrupted Nelsen and committee Chair Denis Anderson told Yanish to be quiet until Nelsen had finished talking.
Yanish said he was holding a program for a recent Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities conference that the mayor characterized as more play time than meeting time. City Administrator Charlene Stevens said the program was revised from the program the mayor was holding.
Nelsen said she attended the conference. She detailed hour-by-hour the speakers she heard and the programs she attended throughout the day. Nelsen said she talked to council members and officials from other cities and learned what other cities are doing and the good things that were happening. Nelsen said there was a social hour and dinner but she said the speaker was informative.
Yanish and Nelsen were seated next to each other at the desk in the front of the Municipal Utilities Building auditorium where the committee was meeting.
Yanish started to tell Nelsen that there wasn’t anything that Nelsen won’t spend money on. Anderson stopped Yanish because Anderson did not want the discussion to get personal and he said Yanish’s comment was not appropriate.
Yanish then got up from the desk, opened the door and let it slam behind him as he left.
Anderson spoke in favor of the dues and said the Coalition is effective at lobbying at the State Capitol in talking to legislators and the governor.
Committee member Tim Johnson spoke about the Coalition’s influence and said the organization’s effort on behalf of increasing Local Government Aid more than offset the dues.
Earlier in the nearly four-hour meeting, Yanish read a statement during the portion of the agenda dedicated to hearing comments from the mayor.
Yanish said he was elected in 2010, “quite overwhelmingly I might add,’’ and as part of his campaign he promised to reduce spending and that was what he intended to do.
“In my opinion, we cannot continue to spend the amounts that we have been spending on conferences, travel expenses to and from all these conferences, not to mention time away from a job that employees are being paid to do. If it is for specific training, I am not opposed to that,’’ he said.
“That being said we are not in a desperate situation and we don’t want to be, either. If the council wants to add back in some of the reductions I have made, I am willing to look at that. The council can consider many things to do with the savings,’’ he said.
“But I would recommend transferring these savings to balance the budget and to repair city streets,’’ he said.
Anderson said the committee “is trying to come to some sort of resolve on what to do here.’’
The meeting started at 3 p.m. and during the first hour and a half the committee received information on the 2014 budgets for the Willmar Housing and Redevelopment Authority, the Municipal Utilities, and Rice Memorial Hospital.
The remaining time was spent discussing and taking action on community group funding requests, discussing Yanish’s proposed budget reductions, and acting on the 2014 property tax levy and 2014 general operating budget.
Funding requests from community groups that were not included by Yanish were $58,500 for the Willmar Design Center; $21,000 for the West Central Integration Collaborative to provide interpretation services to city residents; $20,000 for the Willmar Area Multicultural Business Center; and $2,000 for the Community Marketing Coalition.
After lengthy discussion, the committee approved $37,000 for the Design Center with $5,000 going toward the 2014 Holidaze Parade; approved $10,000 for the Willmar Area Multicultural Business Center; and $2,000 for the Community Marketing Coalition.
The committee did not approve the West Central Integration Collaborative’s funding request, but decided to move the funding to the professional services portion of the budget and to seek proposals from firms that provide interpretive services.
Yanish did include funding requests of $28,000 for the Humane Society; $15,000 for West Central Industries for the meals on wheels program; and $25,000 for Willmar Fests.
At the end of the meeting, Finance Director Steve Okins said the committee reinstated everything that had been previously cut and made some temporary changes to the capital improvement program.
The committee approved the 2014 property tax levy of $4,139,734, which includes the $170,000 levy for the Housing and Redevelopment Authority, and approved the general operating budget of $15,757,236.
The committee’s action is a recommendation to the council after the council holds the annual Truth in Taxation property tax hearing, which is scheduled Dec. 2.
Anderson thanked the committee for its work.
“This was well done,’’ he said. “I feel bad that the mayor left. But I think we did what we had to do and we’ll move forward.’’