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Mayor's budget cuts will run deep

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A passing train on Monday temporarily closes Seventh Street Southwest in Willmar. Proposed railroad quiet zones take a hit in Mayor Les Heitke's proposed budget for 2010, as does funding for city parks, improvements for the Civic Center and landscaping for the downtown area. Tribune photo by Gary Miller2 / 2

WILLMAR -- There is no money for establishing railroad crossing quiet zones, no money for more Christmas lights, less money for city parks and less money for Civic Center improvements in Mayor Les Heitke's proposed city budget for 2010.

However, the City Council is proposing to add $100,000 to Heitke's proposed $3,568,705 property tax for 2010 to update a storm water study and make storm water improvements, up from the 2009 property tax levy of $3,525,325.

Heitke told the council's Finance Committee Monday evening during his 2010 budget presentation that he knows the council is concerned about addressing storm water problems caused by heavy rain events.

"But at the same time as we went through this budget, you can see where we made cuts,'' he said. "We are cutting some very good services and some very good programs for the city."

It just pains me to look at cutting things like Meals on Wheels and the Design Center and cultural diversity, and at the same time look at adding on new expenses.''

If the council is going to put more money back into the budget, "please consider all these things that we've talked about as being important to the city and see what's happening to them and then how does that balance with new things that you want to put into the city,'' said the mayor.

He noted the full-time airport manager's position and a half-time custodial position will not be filled in 2010.

"At some point we have to make the decision to take care of what we have in place .There will be no money for railroad quite zones,'' said Heitke. "That's been an important issue that the City Council wanted to do something about. There is no money for the (local and regional) foundations.''

This was Heitke's first budget presentation to the committee. The second will be in late November just before the council finalizes the budget in December. Meanwhile, the committee will be discussing the budget during the coming months.

Last week, Heitke criticized the council for setting the 2010 preliminary levy without first seeing his budget. State law sets Sept. 15 as the date with when cities must certify a preliminary levy to the county auditor.

After the committee adjourned, Chairman Denis Anderson said in an interview that he was concerned about the timing issue. He said the council didn't have any opportunity to see the budget before certifying the preliminary levy.

"I think it's in the council's best interest to at least see what the mayor's proposing before we come through with the levy and I want to see that changed for next year,'' said Anderson.

The 2010 proposed budget is $22,086,858, up from $20,842,162 in 2009. The amount includes the general operating budget of $12,001,196, down from $13,385,015 in 2009; capital improvements of $817,650, down from $1,226,700 in 2009; and operating and debt of $9,268,012, up from $6,230,447 in 2009.

Of the city's top three funding streams, Local Government Aid slipped from first to second, due to projected unallotments next year, down from 22.1 percent ($4,596,086) in 2009 to 18.3 percent ($4,052,790) in 2010.

Service charges now make up the top funding stream at 21.9 percent ($4,830,422), up from 21.6 percent ($4,509,592) in 2009. Charges for wastewater treatment account for most of that: $4,043,772, up from $3,767,792 in 2009.

The third-highest revenue stream is property taxes, down from 16.9 percent of revenue in 2009 to 16.2 percent in 2010.

The mayor urged the council to safeguard the intergovernmental transfer from the Willmar Municipal Utilities of $1,823,971 in 2010, up from $1,753,818 in 2009, because the utilities commission has proposed the City Charter be rewritten to remove the council's authority over the utilities.

On the expenditure side, Heitke said reductions were due to lower fuel costs, retirements, and reductions in conferences, travel and training.

In public safety, which accounts for 21.2 percent of expenditures, fire protection services are down from $749,447 in 2009 to $687,207, due to fewer firefighters. Police protection costs slipped from $4,000,351 in 2009 to $3,984,555 in 2010.

Public works is down from $3,138,190 in 2009 to $3,073,414 in 2010.

Capital improvements would be cut almost 50 percent due to fewer equipment purchases and vehicle replacements.

Capital outlay, which comprised two budget pages in the past, is reduced to one page, the mayor said. Among the items, the Civic Center will receive only $2,000 for tables and chairs in 2010, compared with $36,500 for various items in 2009.

Parks will receive $22,000 compared with $81,500 in 2009. "I can remember when we used to spend $100,000 for parks,'' said Heitke.

In non-departmental spending, the city's contribution to Meals on Wheels will be cut from $20,000 in 2009 to $15,000 in 2010. The Southwest Minnesota Initiative Foundation and Willmar Community Foundation, which shared $10,000 in 2009, will receive nothing in 2010.

Civic promotions fall from $123,150 in 2009 to $51,000 in 2010, meaning no money for Child Guide Program, Christmas decorations, downtown benches and flowers, news and marketing, and arts and humanities.

What remains will be $10,000 toward the new Humane Society building, $25,000 for Willmar Fests, $1,000 for Chamber of Commerce leadership training and $15,000 for the Baseball Boosters, down from $30,000, to help pay for loans on Taunton Stadium.

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