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Mayor proposes changes for Willmar city budget in 2013

WILLMAR -- Mayor Frank Yanish is proposing to dedicate a $240,000 property tax increase to increased street improvements rather than to general operating expenses such as salaries and snowplowing in the 2013 city budget.

In addition, Yanish is recommending the City Council begin the process in 2013 of building up a capital reserve fund to help pay for equipment and other needs as part of a new five-year capital improvement plan.

Yanish proposes a 2013 levy of $4,232,734, up from the 2012 levy of $3,992,734. The increase, going to the street program, would allow for an additional one mile of overlay in 2013, said City Administrator Charlene Stevens.

The budget also proposes $60,000 for crack-sealing and repair within the street bonding program for 2013.

"We have to be real careful with what we spend and how we spend it,'' Yanish said. "Money just isn't going to be there in the future, I don't think, with the local government aid. For 2013, we're going to be OK.''

Yanish proposes dedicating the levy increase to streets, at least for the first year. After that, it would be up to the council to decide.

"But I'm guessing they would vote for streets each year,'' he said.

Stevens says the council has indicated a desire to catch up on or increase street maintenance. This is a start to doing that, she said.

"Typically we do one mile of overlay a year. We will be doing a second mile of overlay and prevent the reconstruction later, extend the life of the street ... and we would still be doing reconstruction and there would still be assessment. It (the levy dedication) just allows us to do more than what we've been doing.''

New this year is establishing a five-year capital improvement process, starting with the proposed transfer next year of $1,817,611 from the general fund into a reserve fund to help pay for various projects and equipment.

About half of the transfer -- $986,700 -- would be spent during the plan's first year,

"The city has always done capital planning, always done capital projects. But we haven't really done it in a full-fledged five-year looking out on the horizon and really building that,'' Stevens said.

In particular over the last few years, the city has suffered with reductions in local government aid from the state. To make up for the loss, the city has deferred capital expenditures.

But deferring those doesn't necessarily help the city in the long run because the need is still there and sometimes costs go up.

"So we are really trying to build a five-year capital improvement plan and come up with different criteria and how we look at it, such as is it a legal mandate, is it maintenance of an existing asset, is it sustainable, will it reduce or offset our cost, is it a critical public safety need or concern, and does it meet the council's priorities in the strategic plan,'' she explained.

A committee of five department heads came up with a system to rank projects over five years and build on that plan, said Stevens.

Capital projects are funded with bonds, cash from unspent reserves and unspent previous capital allocations, and special revenues from wastewater treatment plant rates and the local option sales tax.

Using revenue from those sources, plus the utility fee and public infrastructure revolving fund, officials are proposing $7,663,245 in projects at the airport, fire department, industrial park, city hall information technology, leisure services, public works, storm water, trails and sidewalks, and wastewater treatment for 2013.

The $34,974,785 budget proposes a 1½ percent wage increase in 2013 for unionized employees along with some increases in health insurance costs for employer and employees.

Yanish proposes to reinstate the government relations contract for a congressional lobbyist at a cost of $15,000 next year. The council has not selected the individual. But the council in the past has contracted with David Turch and Associates at a cost of $30,000 per year. The last year in which the council contracted with Turch was 2011. The Municipal Utilities Commission also contracts with Turch.

Yanish is proposing a $4,000 increase in support for Kandiyohi Area Transit from $9,000 in 2012 to $13,000 in 2013. Also, Yanish proposes a $15,666 increase to the Willmar Public Library from $459,007 to $474,673.

Also, Yanish proposes a $1,500 increase in salaries for the mayor and council members. Salaries are approved by ordinance. The ordinance was last changed in October 2009, effective Jan. 1, 2007.

The mayor's salary would increase from $12,000 in 2012 to $13,500 in 2013 and council members' salaries from $7,500 to $9,000. In addition, the council member who temporarily serves as mayor in the mayor's absence at council meetings would receive an additional $500 per year.

Yanish said the increase is due "without a doubt.''

"In order to attract good, high-quality people, I think it is needed, especially when you compare it to the (Kandiyohi County) commissioners, which meet about as often as the council people do, and some of them make with the benefits and everything close to $50,000,'' he said.

The budget proposes a $22,000 reduction in overall funding to 11 community partner organizations from $134,500 in 2012 to $112,500 in 2013. Some partners will receive less money, some more and some will receive the same.

Reductions are also proposed in paid overtime for public works and police, reductions in seasonal employees and reductions in tree planting.

"We've looked at what we've been budgeting for overtime and what we've actually spent for police overtime and we think we can reduce that by about $15,000 based on our actual experience. We're also looking at some changes maybe in our public works overtime as well and being able to do that,'' said Stevens.

"We're also looking at tightening up and reducing some of our seasonal employees for parks and recreation and to gain some savings and reducing the number of trees we plant,'' she said. "We planted quite a number of trees for a long time, so we think we can plant fewer trees and still keep the city looking good and keep the city green but save about $9,000.''

Stevens said the city organization is getting "pretty lean and mean.''

"We have since 2009 reduced our staffing by a little over seven full-time equivalents across the board, everything from airport manager to police officers to public works operator to clerical position,'' she said.

Stevens said as staffing levels change, service levels are also being adjusted to work within the available resources. She said the city is trying to make changes that will have the least impact on citizens.

"Even as we reduce or possibly eliminate services, we remain committed to delivering the highest quality services,'' she said.

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