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Brainerd city planning intern approved second time around

Shot down at a previous meeting, the Brainerd City Council reversed its decision to now allow for a temporary Planning Department intern this fall.

The position was first turned down by a 4-3 vote at the last city council meeting, with those who voted against the request citing concerns over spending more money with an already tight budget, as well as the idea that the position should be talked about during actual budget discussion. Voting against the hire were: council members Chip Borkenhagen, Mary Koep, Kelly Bevans, Dale Parks.

But Monday night, after the issue was brought forward with some new numbers, all but Koep switched their vote, approving the position.

The intern will work in the Planning Department, but will also finish up some code enforcement work that the current city hall intern has started.

The current intern only works on code enforcement and the position ends Aug. 14.

And there's still a lot of code violations to follow up on, along with a heavy workload in the Planning Department that staff requested help with.

The new intern will be hired on for 67 days and will cost about $6,500.

It's the numbers that caused Safety and Public Works Committee Chair Gary Scheeler to bring the issue back before the group.

There have been 722 enforcement cases this year so far, with $17,500 in revenue from those citations.

"That figure would be zero without the intern," he said of the revenue.

Scheeler argued that the intern saves clerical staff time by avoiding phone calls from residents with complaints and code enforcement questions.

Koep disagreed, suggesting that current staff in the Planning Department or the rental inspector should tend to code enforcement work.

"We could put more of this on our (city) planner ... if the council thinks this is a priority, an existing staff member should do it," she said.

The revenue, she said, is only temporary.

"That's low hanging fruit," she said.

This should be part of the upcoming budget discussion, she said.

Bevans, who voted against the intern the first time around, said if there was no intern, the remaining work would fall to an already busy city staff. Follow-up could fall to the wayside.

Parks, who also voted against the intern the first time around, said it first appeared like a jump start to adding another position.

"I know stuff still needs to be cleaned up. I'm not sure staff can do that on top other duties. I feel an intern should finish up those duties," he said.

In other city council news:

Agreed to address at its next meeting the idea to annex the 37 acres of land near the city's recently purchased hydro dam. The land is currently in unorganized territory.

Heard that staff will be investigating a sanitary sewer problem near St. Andrew's Church on Willow Street. The service is plugged, and staff needs to determine who is responsible for the fix.

Heard that the sale of bonds for the hydro dam will be postponed until next month. The cost of the spillway repair at the dam came in about $400,000 more than expected, so staff is now working with a bond consultant on its next move. The topic will be before the council in September.

Jessie Perrine
Jessie covers the Brainerd City Council and the Brainerd School Board. Born and raised in southern Minnesota, Jessie attended Winona State University, where she majored in journalism with a minor in women and gender studies. She worked at the Winona Daily News, Tomah Journal and the La Crosse Tribune before starting at the Dispatch in 2012.
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