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City Council continues assessing discussion of merger with county

WILLMAR -- Willmar City Council members are continuing their discussion on the possibility of merging the City Assessing Department with the Kandiyohi County Assessor's Office.

During their regular meeting this week, council members indicated they want more information before making a decision, and they returned the issue to the Labor Relations Committee for more study.

City Administrator Michael Schmit and County Administrator Larry Kleindl have said they spent about a year carefully studying the merger idea with participation from city and county employees.

Although Schmit and Kleindl determined that consolidating the departments was feasible, Schmit cited several concerns from the city's perspective. He recommended that consolidation now was not in the city's best interest and told council members there might be better times and better opportunities in the future, but he didn't know when that would be.

Schmit cited as reasons the implications and impacts to city employees, significant differences in city and county pay scales and health care insurance premiums, and uncertainty over future county assessing charges following a seven-year buyout period.

Committee Chairman Steve Ahmann asked council members Monday night whether they want Schmit and Kleindl to continue the discussion or if council members had other thoughts. He said the council needed to make a decision.

"Otherwise we're kind of spinning our wheels,'' he said.

Kleindl told the council the discussion process has been detailed and good. He said the decision is the council's to make. But he suggested council members not drag it on for another six months.

"This is your program, your employees and the decision is yours, and I'll support what you guys decide,'' he said. "If you decide it's a process you want to enter into, the county is ready and we are able to do this.''

Ron Christianson said the council owes the county an answer, but he wanted more time and more information.

Denis Anderson said he wanted to know how improvements can be made and he favored moving the discussion forward with the intent of consolidating unless something significant comes up.

In other business, the council:

- Voted 5-2 to reappropriate $20,000 in unspent 2008 capital funds for an irrigation system in the yellow softball field at Swansson Field and for construction of a berm with block and concrete along the first-base side at Taunton Stadium. Voting in favor were Anderson, Bruce DeBlieck, Doug Reese, Tim Johnson and Rick Fagerlie. Voting against were Christianson and Ahmann. Jim Dokken was absent.

- Accepted the donation of an inflatable bouncy house valued at $1,800 from the Willmar Firefighters Association. The bouncy house will be used during fire prevention activities.

- Approved final payment of $124,347 to Duininck Inc. of Prinsburg for street construction and utility improvements on Willmar Avenue Southwest between 18th Street and Industrial Boulevard.

- Approved substantial completion of the solids handling system and solids storage system at the new wastewater treatment facility. Both systems completed successful seven-day runs on Oct. 22.

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