Chief gets officer backThe city administrator handed them the budget and told Two Harbors City Council members to go at it. Find the money, Lee Klein told them. What do you want to cut?
By: Mike Creger, Lake County News Chronicle
The city administrator handed them the budget and told Two Harbors City Council members to go at it. Find the money, Lee Klein told them. What do you want to cut?
In the end, after many pin-drop moments Monday, the council decided to scrap its plans for a $65,000 street repair machine in 2010 in favor of filling a vacant spot on the police force while also filling a public works position.
After Klein outlined the budget dilemmas, council members in turn threw out ideas only to be shot down because the money saved was from fixed sources or departments had fixed costs. Finally, Mayor Randy Bolen, remorse lacing his voice, said the “crack filler,” a machine to fix crevices and holes in streets, might have to be put on the chopping block.
“It’ll get us closer to making the budget,” Bolen said. The decision was difficult, he said, because he pushed for the machine, which the council approved based on it paying for itself in a few years without hiring repair work out to contractors. “I’m still sold on it.”
“I don’t want to see it taken out of there,” council member John Dover said. “I wish we could do more but it’s the most sensible solution right now.
At first, council members discussed an “either or” track when it came to the two positions.
With benefits and salary, it will cost about $71,000 for the eighth officer and $58,000 for the public works position. The council will wiggle the numbers to make the costs work, with the largest chunk coming from the street repair machine money. Other expected savings will come in changing the health care provider for city employees.
Police Chief Chris Donald had requested replacing the vacant position earlier this month due to struggles filling out shifts. A major hurdle was on the night shifts, where he prefers to have two officers on staff.
When planning the budget for next year, there was a perceived savings of about $180,000 in labor costs.
An officer left in May and wasn’t replaced and two public works employees left. “It took care of layoffs,” Klein said, referring to the volunteer departures. He remains confident there will be no layoffs in the next year to keep the budget in line.
“2011 is the scary year,” Bolen said.
Council member Chris Swanson said he appreciated the mayor’s compromise but wondered how he will deal with residents “counting on” the repair machine to shore up crumbling city streets. He said it seems “we take two steps forward and three steps back.”
“The main goal is to balance the budget,” Bolen said. He said the city will continue its aggressive work on major roads, to the tune of about $200,000 next year. The repair machine works on surface repair, not major reconstruction.
There was no formal council action on the positions Monday. That should come next week. A new officer could be hired by Dec. 1. That position, along with the one for public works, has a long list of possible candidates.