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City officials may turn to public regarding '11 budget

WILLMAR -- Willmar City Council members might consider taking comments from local citizens into account as officials and Mayor Les Heitke begin the process this summer of discussing and putting together the city's 2011 budget.

The idea of possibly taking a community survey was raised by Finance Committee Chairman Denis Anderson. He would like the committee to discuss the survey idea and budget issues in light of the state's looming budget deficit that might result in future Local Government Aid reductions.

LGA is the largest revenue source -- 18.3 percent -- of this year's $22 million budget. One issue on which Anderson wants more discussion is developing a plan for reductions in 2011.

Anderson said he's been pleased with the way the city has handled LGA cuts so far.

"We haven't really reduced any city services. We haven't impacted the residents of the city to what they've come to expect at all,'' said Anderson.

"But I do have a concern going forward. We've postponed some capital improvement projects, some vehicle purchases and things like that. You can only postpone that sort of thing for so long and eventually you've got to replace some of these things that need replacing,'' he said.

Other ideas that Anderson would like the committee to discuss include past LGA and property tax levies, identifying fees and other revenue sources, discussing organizational and consolidation opportunities, and discussing a process to develop a plan for additional reductions in 2011.

Anderson said the committee's intent is not to tell the mayor how to prepare the budget. The City Charter requires the mayor to "prepare or cause to be prepared and submit an annual budget and capital improvements program to the council.'' The council adopts the mayor's budget in December.

However, the committee would like to give the mayor some thoughts about various spending proposals, said Anderson.

"We realize it's the mayor's job to set the budget, and he's done a fine job. But on issues like maybe the council would want to raise the levy. We did that last year,'' Anderson said, referring to the $100,000 levy increase -- not proposed by the mayor -- for storm water projects.

If the committee decides to proceed with the survey, Anderson would like the results available for discussion by the committee and the full council on July 26. Anderson wants responses to represent the whole city.

"I think citizen input would be very interesting. It could be very helpful as we make some decisions,'' he said.

On another topic, Anderson would like some discussion about "green initiatives.'' Anderson said he's not sure what he's looking for, but said he knows a number of cities are doing things in terms of recycling and fuel efficiency.

"It's just a starting point for discussion,'' he said.

Also, Anderson would like discussion about volunteer possibilities such as asking citizens to help take care of some parks.

He doesn't know what all the possibilities are.

"But if there are things that we can get volunteers to do that would save the city money, then it might be worthwhile considering,'' he said.

The committee voted this week to approve the June 28 and July 26 meeting dates for further budget discussion.

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