Editorial: Proposed city budget makes vital investments

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The proposed 2018 city of Willmar budget from Mayor Marv Calvin is another step in moving this city in a proactive and focused direction; rather than reacting to the latest outcry.

While the final budget that will emerge from the Willmar City Council’s budget process will have some changes, the proposed budget does identify and target some needed priorities.

The mayor’s budget proposal includes a 3 percent levy increase, or $144,880, over the previous year’s budget, to $4,974,245. The City Council will vote on a preliminary levy increase at next week’s meeting. Once the preliminary levy is approved, the levy may still be decreased but cannot be increased.

The mayor, city staff and the majority of City Council members wisely participated in three work sessions this summer seeking to identify and prioritize the needs for the city’s capital investment plan. This planning process targeted several critical need areas: City Hall, Civic Center, Community Center, stormwater projects and road projects, and Robbins Island projects.

These are all important needs for the city and its residents.

Civic Center - The budget includes $2.45 million to replace and install a new refrigeration system for ice at the city-owned facility. The current system is near the end of its useability and has already experienced one critical breakdown.

City Hall/Community Center - There is $8.5 million proposed targeting the major City Hall and Community Center building need. The city is considering a joint facility to meet the both the city hall space needs and to meet community group and meeting needs.

Road and stormwater projects - There is $1.5 million in the proposed budget to address the city’s needs in road maintenance and stormwater projects. The stormwater project would include $800,000 for a western project and $100,000 for a Menards area project. Both are intended to help address flooding issues on the west and south sides of the city.

Robbins Island projects - Include an amphitheater for $357,000, portable bleachers for fields and a $250,000 local match for a State Legacy grant of $600,000 for various other projects.

The city is considering funding these capital investments through bonding but is also looking for other funding options, according to city staff.

The mayor, city staff and the City Council are to be commended for working to identify the critical priorities in the city, seek ways to fund and complete needed projects, and hopefully complete the strategic investments needed to keep Willmar improving its infrastructure and community assets.

It is far too easy to play the poor city and sky-is-falling arguments and kick the critical city investment needs on down the proverbial highway to the future. That has happened far too often in recent years.

Also, it is important for the city to demonstrate leadership and make the necessary investments, especially in its own facilities in downtown Willmar. If the city is not willing to invest in maintaining, improving and/or rebuilding its own facilities downtown, why should business and private property owners downtown make their own investments?

“The health of the city government is pretty good” and “is in good financial shape,” City Administrator Ike Holland said this week at a Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

We agree.

He said the city would soon be working on small projects to help beautify the city as well. This would include major and small projects, like updating the paint on lampposts and street signals, and upgrading city signage.

The City Council will have an opportunity to review the proposed city budget and its related projects, and then make the final decisions. In the end, we hope the council demonstrates wisdom on the city expenditures but also makes necessary investments in our collective future.

This editorial is the opinion of the West Central Tribune’s Editorial Board of publisher Steve Ammermann and editor Kelly Boldan.