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City responds to Olson's financial advice

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news Brainerd, 56401
Brainerd Dispatch
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Brainerd MN 506 James St. / PO Box 974 56401

Brainerd leaders have responded to a former council member’s suggestions in how to fund improvement projects.

At the first January Brainerd City Council meeting, former Brainerd City Council member and Mayor Bob Olson presented alternative ways for the city to complete projects, which where halted because of a petition he helped circulate to stop the capital improvement bonds.

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Those projects were: heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) upgrades for city hall and the police and fire departments, repairs to the front entrance at city hall, emergency preparedness upgrades at the public safety facilities and a salt/sand storage building.

During Olson’s presentation, he provided the council three pages listing several actions he said the city could do to get those projects completed without “putting an extra tax burden on the city taxpayers.”

As directed by the council, in response, city staff replied in the form of a seven-page memo that responded to Olson’s ideas.

Here are some of Olson’s ideas, along with the city’s response:

• Olson: Use $120,000 from the park dedication fund to buy the field groomer and satellite lifter. Use $26,000 to pay for construction of a sand and salt building.

City: According to Brainerd City Code, those funds can only be used to buy park land or for the improvements of the land and facilities. “Therefore, Park Dedication fees cannot be used to purchase equipment. The $120,000 fund balance Mr. Olson referred to in the Park Dedication Fund includes a number of donations earmarked by the donors for specific projects.”

• Olson: Use the $41,000 in DUI and drug forfeiture funds to buy the police department squad video system. That will leave funds available to buy the generator for the building.

City: Forfeiture funds are to be used to supplement departmental budgets as opposed to supplanting.

“With the anticipation of the drug dog retiring, we knew there would be a significant cost in acquiring a new dog and the training it will require for the officer and dog. We had identified the Drug Forfeiture Funds as a possible funding source for the program. To exhaust all of the Drug and DWI funds to upgrade our in-squad video system would be a very poor choice for several reasons. Primarily it would make us vulnerable to auditing issues that would show we were supplanting our budgeting with these funds to make the purchase.”

• Olson: Use the fire equipment capital fund to buy HVAC units for the fire station.

City: “The sole revenue source of this fund is from the fire service agencies as determined in the fire funding formula. The fund is for ‘equipment replacement, capital expenditures, and major equipment repair.’ It is possible that the upgrades to the fire department HVAC system (estimated at $5,000) could be paid for from this fund, subject to a recommendation from the Fire Advisory Board.”

• Olson: Instead of buying two city staff cars at $38,000 and an inspection vehicle for $19,000, buy just one staff car and an inspection vehicle. Use the other $19,000 to pay for upgrades to the HVAC system at the police department.

City: “Because of the age and unreliability of the city hall/inspections staff vehicles, replacement was included in the equipment certificate issue. One of the vehicles being replaced (an inspections truck) will be transferred to the Street and Sewer garage.”

• Olson: Reductions in payroll and levy transfer. Then the $545,000 City Hall HVAC system could be installed. Olson’s recommendations included: Don’t fill the accounts payable clerk position, save $50,000; Reduce staff throughout other city departments, save $250,000; EDA levy of $80,000 transferred to general fund; There is a $100,000 surplus in the 2014 budget, Olson said.

City: “The statement that administration and other city departments are overstaffed is generalized and not quantifiable. Staff does not agree that any of our departments are overstaffed...The City Administrator continually evaluates city services against staff levels and would be the first person to suggest reduction in staff if it was warranted.”

While city officials say Olson’s suggestions weren’t helpful, Olson stands by his ideas.

“My recommendations are valid and they deserve a lot of consideration,” he said.

He continued, “These government bureaucrats spend their entire career in the public sector with no experience in managing a successful business. (The council) says it’s easier to raise taxes rather than reducing spending.”

City Administrator Theresa Goble said Olson and the council have different points of view.

“It’s his strategy on how to manage city finances versus the current council’s view on how to manage finances,” she said.

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

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