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City staff hold special budget workshop

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A special budget workshop gave city leaders an early look at next year’s challenges.

The Brainerd City Council and city staff held a budget workshop Monday. The workshop was the first of its kind, with a purpose to better feel out what the city will face financially next year.

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Department heads presented preliminary needs to the group.

The only increase request for staffing is a part-time seasonal maintenance worker in Parks and Recreation Department.

The Fire Department requested the two full-time employees who were hired through the SAFER grant be kept on. At a previous session, the council voted to keep the two on staff through December, so the council could make a better assessment.

City administrator Theresa Goble said the department heads declined asking for more staff overall because they are used to doing more with less.

Goble added, the department heads were willing to trade an increased staff in hopes of looking at capital needs.

Some of those capital requests included:

Fire Department: A request for the fuel budget to increase from $10,000 to $15,000.

Replacement vehicles were added to the five-year capital plan for the department.

The average age of trucks is 18 years. Maintenance and repair costs have increased in the past several years, fire chief Kevin Stunek said.

“Our equipment is getting older and older and older, and unfortunately our equipment isn’t cheap,” Stunek said.

Also added to the five-year capital plan is rescue equipment.

Police Department: Replacement vehicles were added to the five-year capital plan for the department.

A request to replace “24-hour” chairs at the cost of up to $500, with half in 2014 and the other half in 2015.

A request for $2,000 in radio maintenance.

Parks and Recreation Department: Replacement vehicles were added to the five-year capital plan for the department.

The department spent $13,489 on major repairs in the past 19 months, said Parks and Recreation Department director Tony Sailer.

Planning Department: A request to update the city’s comprehensive plan, with a cost request of $75,000. The last plan was put together 10 years ago.

“Hopefully it’s a matter of when council says it’s time to re-evaluate land use issues and bring it up to date. Without it, we’re behind the times,” said city planner Mark Ostgarden.

Engineering Department: Areas that need to be addressed next year are the City Hall HVAC system and the street department’s salt and sand storage facility, said city engineer Jeff Hulsether.

City staff will research equipment certificates in possible funding options for capital equipment requests, as well as facility certificates.

Goble requested a direction from the council in regard to the SAFER grant. The grant will no longer fund the two fire department employees since the grant was discontinued. If the grant becomes active again the department will have to re-apply.

The cost to hire both employees is about $150,000.

Councilman Kelly Bevans said the council should leave the two employees in the budget for now.

Councilwoman Mary Koep cautioned, “At some point, we need to make some really tough decisions, and we can’t do everything.”

Per city council direction, Goble will preliminarily include the SAFER grant employees in the budget review, as well as adding a mechanic-type employee in the Street and Sewer Department.

City finance director Connie Hillman recommended a proposed debt levy increase to $1,689,854 for 2014, which is higher than the 2013 debt levy of $1.5 million.

In order to bring all debt service funds to zero, an estimated 2014 levy of $2.9 million would be needed, Hillman said.

“That’s not a feasible option,” she said.

Another challenge the city faces is an estimated decrease of revenue of $150,000 from Brainerd Public Utilities as a result of the Wausau Paper Plant closing.

The preliminary levy has to be adopted by Sept. 15. It can be lowered in December when the final levy is adopted, but it cannot be increased.

With the discussion of Monday’s meeting, city department heads will formally fill out line item requests. Next, city staff will compile the results and numbers, which will show the council if cuts need to be made or if further revenue options need to be looked at. The information will be brought before the council before Sept. 15 for more discussion.

JESSICA LARSEN may be reached at jessica.larsen@brainerddispatch.com or 855-5859. Follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/brainerdnews.

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