Mayor's budget proposes addition of two employees

WILLMAR -- Mayor Les Heitke is recommending the City Council add two employees to the city payroll next year to handle the increase in public safety calls and to operate and maintain more city facilities.

WILLMAR -- Mayor Les Heitke is recommending the City Council add two employees to the city payroll next year to handle the increase in public safety calls and to operate and maintain more city facilities.

The mayor is proposing to add one police officer position and one public works position in his $18,842,470 budget for 2006. The new positions are needed to keep pace with the increasing demand for city services, said Heitke.

"As our city continues to grow, we add not only more streets, more parks, more facilities, but obviously more retail business. All of that combined puts more emphasis on the need for safety throughout our community,'' Heitke said.

"More people are using our services, our facilities, our stores, and this naturally results in a developing increase in public safety calls.''

Heitke said calls to the Police Department may involve anything from traffic control and congestion problems, fender benders and car lockouts to possible crime problems in neighborhoods or stores.


Crime, investigation activities are up

Police Chief Jim Kulset said his department has not added a patrol officer position since 1998, yet crime and investigation activity have increased significantly during the past eight years.

The cost of an entry level officer with wages, benefits and overtime is about $65,000, he said. If the position is approved, the number of officers would increase from 22 to 23.

As a regional center, Willmar attracts certain types of calls or crimes, he said. Much of it is tied to growth during the past eight years. The city added 515 new housing units with a value of $64 million, and added 7½ miles of streets through 2004.

Kulset said family service-child protection complaints climbed 223 percent during the past eight years. "And those are time-consuming,'' he said. Forgeries jumped 207 percent, arrests at traffic stops rose 134 percent, thefts increased 26 percent and burglaries were up 25 percent.

Other calls for service such as those for abandoned vehicles and garbage and yards are up. The department towed 30 percent more motor vehicles, many resulting from calls from the building inspection department.

He said more time is required to investigate cases involving identity theft, forgery and family service. "It's not only the numbers; it's also the amount of time that is required for us to spend on each particular call or case or crime,'' said the chief.

Facilities stretch Public Works Department


Heitke said the new public works position is needed because the city has more facilities to operate, such as the Dorothy Olson Aquatic Center, which opened last year, the new Bill Taunton Baseball Stadium at Baker Field, which opened this year, and the second sheet of ice at the Blue Line Center, next to the Civic Center. The city will also be maintaining new soccer fields in the southwest part of town.

"This is putting a lot of pressure on our Public Works Department to have these facilities available, to clean and also to continue to work to improve the availability of these facilities, especially the second sheet of ice,'' Heitke said.

"It's very labor-intensive to take down the glass walls for the hockey arena and clean up after any kind of an event. There are locker rooms, bathrooms, and trash to be hauled. Sometimes repairs have to be made,'' the mayor said.

"It's time for the city to look to adding one more position in the Public Works Department that will be spread around all these new facilities that our citizens have been asking us for. We have to keep up the infrastructure of the city in order to keep these facilities available, accessible, clean and up to current repairs and code,'' said Heitke.

City fortunate to have facilities promoters

The facilities were requested and promoted by local groups, which raised most of the construction funds. The facilities were then turned over to the city to operate and maintain.

City Administrator Michael Schmit said the city is fortunate to have people in the private sector that raised money for the projects.

"But once they're built, then they have to be operated and maintained, and we only have so many people to do what needs to be done,'' said Schmit.


If the council approves the request, the number of public works and maintenance employees will rise from 17 to 18. The number does not include the working foreman and superintendent.

Besides maintaining new facilities, the city must also find time to remove a backlog of Dutch elm-diseased trees, plow snow, mow park grass, patch streets and handle other tasks, according to Schmit.

"It's gotten to a point where we just can't ignore the growth in terms of the work force and our ability to continue to provide good service to the residents of Willmar,'' he said.

Schmit said a $225,000 increase in Local Government Aid from the state will go a long way in making up the increased cost. Also, an increase in new construction value will allow the city to limit the increase in property taxes.

"Theoretically as in previous years, if your valuation hasn't changed, your property taxes are likely to stay where they are and might even go down, depending on the final numbers that we get from the county,'' said Schmit.

The council's Finance Committee will discuss the budget on Monday and make a recommendation to the council on Dec. 5.

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