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Heitke tie-breaker assures Child Guide funding request in '09 city budget

WILLMAR -- Mayor Les Heitke broke a tie City Council vote to assure his 2009 budget will include $10,000 for the Child Guide Program.

The council voted 4-4 Monday night on a motion by the Finance Committee to remove the $10,000 from next year's $20.8 million budget, but Heitke broke the tie and voted against the motion.

The Child Guide Program began in 1996 as an early intervention program located in the Willmar elementary schools. It connects young people with positive people and activities. But the program is receiving less funding from the PACT 4 Families Collaborative and there is a $22,000 shortfall in the program's $109,404 budget.

Heitke said the city ought to be a partner in the well-established program, which was praised in the city's successful application for the 2005 All-America City award. Heitke said he trimmed the program's original request. He said the council should be able to find $10,000 in a $20 million budget.

Finance Committee Chairman Denis Anderson said he did not see that the program was a city function.

Council member Doug Reese said he hated to see the program disappear. He said it was a small amount to pay for an ounce of prevention. Steve Gardner also spoke in favor. He said the budget attests to what the council thinks is important.

Rick Fagerlie suggested the Police Department and Community Education and Recreation Department each contribute $5,000.

Voting to remove the funding were Anderson, Fagerlie, Ron Christianson and Jim Dokken.

Voting against were Gardner, Reese, Cindy Swenson and Bruce DeBlieck.

In other budget decisions Monday, the council voted 6-2 to approve $6,000 as the city's share of the contract in partnership with the City of Willmar and Kandiyohi County Economic Development Commission and Kandiyohi County for a State Capitol lobbyist. The expenditure was recommended by the Finance Committee.

Christianson asked if the city has expectations or goals for the lobbyist and he asked how effectiveness would be judged. He said last year was the first year the council thought of having a state lobbyist.

Anderson said the lobbyist's most important task, among others, will be working to have a new state veterans' nursing home built in Willmar.

"We've got some stiff competition out there on that one, and we want it in Willmar,'' he said.

Heitke said Willmar probably would not have received close to $9 million in the Senate bonding bill at the end of the last legislative session without the local lobbyist working with others in the Senate. The funding included $7 million for the wastewater treatment plant.

Christianson said he was not convinced that a lobbyist will get the veterans home. He said Sen. Joe Gimse and Rep. Al Juhnke, both of Willmar, "should be looking out for and watching over what's happening with this.''

Voting in favor of the funding for the contract were Anderson, Swenson, Gardner, Fagerlie, DeBlieck and Reese. Voting against were Christianson and Dokken.

Also Monday, the council approved $5,000 for the Citizens Energy Group, a local group working to affect national energy policy. The motion stipulates the group complete its official formation as a nonprofit organization.

The council approved the overall 2009 budget of $20,842,161, down $1,832,690 from the 2008 budget of $22,674,852.

Also, the council approved the 2009 levy of $3,525,325, up 4.2 percent from the 2008 levy of $3,383,646.

During the open forum, resident Laura Becker asked about the status of the Storm Water Task Force. The council on Aug. 18 approved formation of the task force and was to have approved appointments, goals and objectives on Nov. 3. However, Heitke removed the task force from the agenda.

Heitke said he plans to place the task force on the Dec. 15 agenda. He said he's waiting for some council members to submit names of those interested in serving on the task force.

After the regular meeting adjourned, the council met in closed session to discuss the lawsuit filed against the city by Warren and Jan Lee Jorgenson. The states Open Meeting Law allows a closed session to discuss litigation.

The Jorgensons allege their home at the corner of 10th Street and Kandiyohi Avenue Southwest was flooded and damaged Aug. 21, 2007, by what they say was the city's failure to use reasonable care in maintenance, repair and operation of the storm sewer system.

In an interview Tuesday, City Administrator Michael Schmit said he met with council members to receive comments about an upcoming mediation session between the city and the Jorgensons.

Schmit said William Hull of Minneapolis has been appointed to mediate a possible settlement. Schmit said judges encourage mediation short of taking the case to trial.

Schmit and City Attorney Rich Ronning attended, along with attorney Jim Golembeck of Lake Elmo, who is representing the city through the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust.