'Painful' budget cut ideas proposed at Brainerd council meeting

Some painful budget cuts are ahead, city council members agreed. At a special budget meeting Monday, the Brainerd City Council named some possible cuts to the city's 2015 preliminary working funds budget. There's a projected shortfall of about $1...

Some painful budget cuts are ahead, city council members agreed.

At a special budget meeting Monday, the Brainerd City Council named some possible cuts to the city's 2015 preliminary working funds budget.

There's a projected shortfall of about $1.3 million if everything is kept in the proposed budget.

That would equate to about a 30 percent increase in the levy if the council cut nothing.

For every $50,000 cut, it's about a 1 percent decrease to the levy.


Monday's meeting had one main task: List what can be cut from the proposed budget.

City administrator Patrick Wussow advised, "The fact of matter is, these aren't desires or 'wish we could have' items. ...There are things that are required to get the daily work done at city hall. These types of expenses aren't going to go away."

City finance director Connie Hillman reminded the council that the proposed cuts are only delays in buying the items, and that could lead to an increase in final expense.

City department heads listed their top budget priorities, per request of the council at its last budget session a couple of weeks ago.

(Priorities listed in order, starting with the highest priority identified by staff)

• Finance Department: Credit card equipment about $5,000; scanner $3,000; laptop $2,000; INCODE update to get on the same operating version at Brainerd Public Utilities $20,000.

• Engineer Department: Phone system $30,000; City Hall heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) emergency repairs $25,000; IT position; equipment replacements $10,000; dump truck $145,000; broom tractor $15,000; ¾ ton pickup $24,000.

• Planning Department: Comprehensive Plan rewrite $75,000.


• Parks and Recreation Department: Replace roof insulation $30,000; replace Taurus $21,000; reconstruct one hockey rink $8,000.

• Police Department: Community service officer truck $30,000. Proposed eliminating the following original requests: Another vehicle $24,000; delay buying new chairs; delay HVAC upgrade if CIP fails.

• Fire Department: Proposed eliminating the following original requests: New fire truck; roof repair costs lowered due to temporary fixes; HVAC costing about $1,200 less than planned.

Hillman said other issues need to be addressed by the council as well.

One being strategic initiatives, where the requested budget sets aside $170,000 in funds, with $100,000 proposed for the fund balance policy initiative and $70,000 for initiatives such as the riverwalk, creating a walkable/bikeable city, website and newsletter work and improved communications with residents.

Hillman suggested the city could scale it back to $100,000 total instead of $170,000.

Another issue is the proposed new IT employee. While it's not an additional cost over the 2014 budget (not all of the salary escrow is expected to be used in 2014), it's still an estimated cost of $74,000.

The proposed budget includes $100,000 for union and non-union contract settlements and an estimated 20 percent increase in health insurance rates. The exact insurance rates won't be known until October.


Next, some city council members listed items that they suggested could be removed from the budget to cut back on the budget.

• City council member Kelly Bevans, along with a few other council members, suggested about $1 million in cuts. A few of the cuts suggested were: credit card equipment and INCODE update, the comprehensive plan, $100,000 CIP bond, grant matching money of $14,500, strategic initiatives of $100,000, $50,000 for phase two of riverwalk, $20,000 for the newsletter and website, and the park department's request for a Taurus, mower, hockey rink and security cameras.

"I'm looking at what we can cut without cutting personnel," he said, noting that he doesn't think all of the ideas are good, but might be necessary to save money.

• City council member Mary Koep: Remove the new IT position and the two percent increase the airport requested, take $4,000 from HRA and $8,000 from EDA.

Koep said she agreed with most of Bevan's ideas.

City council member Dolly Matten suggested looking at creative ways to adjust the budget, instead of just making big cuts.

"If we're just cutting merely to survive the next year, we're not going to grow," she said.

City council member Gary Scheeler said cuts should come from areas like the Parks and Recreation Department before taking away from the police and fire, which provide public safety.


Koep said that while the ideas for cuts were a start, they aren't enough.

"Forty dollars on some people's taxes is a lot. Sixty is insurmountable. One hundred would put some people out of business. We're sitting here as a council taking money from the public that they don't have," she said.

City council member Chip Borkenhagen added, "We got ourselves into a pretty bad place here and it's gonna take some serious digging to get us out."

City staff will now put together a new budget spread sheet based on Monday's discussion. That will be presented at the council's regular meeting next Monday.

The council has until Sept. 30 to adopt a preliminary levy. The final levy adopted in December can be lower than the voted on preliminary levy, but it cannot be higher.

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