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Council says no new city employees, for now

Requests to add new jobs to the city's payroll were quickly derailed at the outset of the first of the city's annual budget hearings Monday night in Council Chambers at City Hall.

The council voted 4-3 Tuesday in favor of following a new set of rules for this year's budget process. The new rules, proposed by Councilman Steve Rice, agreed not to increase the total number of city employees. The city currently has 175 full-time employees, according to budget documents.

There were requests to add at least six new jobs to the city's payroll set to be considered as part of the proposed budget. They included two additional firefighter positions, an additional emergency dispatcher, an information technology technician for the finance department, a secretary for the human resources department and a maintenance person for three city-owned buildings: the Mitchell Public Safety building, the James Valley Community Center and City Hall.

Billie Kelly, the city's human resources director, told the council the proposed city employee positions would not be presented at Tuesday night's meeting because of the rules the council agreed to follow. But, Kelly said, the proposed positions could be discussed during a closed-door executive session at the end of Tuesday night's meeting. No action was taken following the executive session.

Rice, Dan Allen, Dave Tronnes and Randy Doescher voted in favor of the new rules. Jeff Smith, Mel Olson and Marty Barington voted in opposition. Councilwoman Susan Tjarks was absent from Tuesday night's meeting.

As part of Rice's proposal, the council also agreed to leave any employee reclassifications for union negotiations, and not to approve any new buildings or any outright purchases of new vehicles, with the exception of public safety vehicles.

Initially, Rice asked to exclude all capital outlay requests from the budget until each one was individually approved by a vote of the council.

"I've never seen a budget process where you put a whole bunch of stuff in and if it sticks, you buy it," Rice said.

The council agreed to follow Rice's method at first, but later reversed that decision by approving all of the requests with one motion, then only voting on requests it wanted to exclude.

The city's total budget was about $35.5 million in calendar year 2014, and the proposed budget for 2015 totals about $31.3 million, according to Marilyn Wilson, the city's finance officer. After the hearings, a proposed budget will be presented to the City Council at the Sept. 1 meeting and will be voted on at the Sept. 15 meeting.

The hearings are scheduled to continue at 5:30 p.m. today and conclude with a meeting at 5:30 p.m. Thursday.

Sales taxes

The city of Mitchell's 2 percent sales tax generated $1,234,798.58 in July, the most of any one month so far this year, according to Wilson, the city's finance officer.

That's also an increase from the $705,876.82 the city's sales tax generated in July 2013. Wilson described the change as a "dramatic increase," but said it could be due to differences in reporting periods for businesses.

"I think we'll be cautiously optimistic that those receipts will remain positive through the quarter and the end of the year," she said.

The city's sales tax brought in a total of $4,618,910.38 in the first six months of 2014. That's a decline of less than 1 percent from the $4,655,028.48 collected during the first six months of 2013.

Councilman Allen asked Wilson whether she took a possible decrease in farm income this year into account when estimating the total sales tax revenue in the proposed budget.

"It looks like they could break even or lose money per acre," Allen said.

The city collected approximately $10.4 million from its 2 percent sales tax in all of 2013. That was nearly a 3 percent drop from 2012, when the city's sales tax generated nearly $10.74 million, a record amount and a 9.2 percent increase from 2011.

Collections of the city's entertainment tax -- an extra 1 percent tax on lodging, alcoholic beverages and prepared food -- totaled $84,347.73 in July, bringing the total for the year to $362,043.44. That's an increase from the $336,685.07 collected at the same time last year.

The tax brought in $691,101.94 in all of 2013 and $697,676.11 in 2012.

Capital requests

The council reviewed requests from the city's departments for a total of about $4 million in capital outlay expenditures, which are typically made by the city's departments to fund improvements or buy new equipment.

The Traffic Department's request for a $131,000 bucket truck was rejected by the council. According to the request, the bucket truck would have allowed the department to fix street lights without having to schedule with the Parks and Recreation Department.

The Police Division agreed to purchase a used vehicle rather than a new vehicle for use as an unmarked car, reducing the expected cost from $26,000 to $16,000.

The Fire Division's request for replacement portable radios for $2,500 was rejected, as was the Parks and Recreation Department's request for $220,000 to replace the shop at the Cadwell Sports Complex.

The Police Division's request for $21,465 for a police service dog and related supplies was discussed, but was not acted on by the council. The request was not included in the proposed budget, which means the council would have to vote to include it.

Mitchell Public Safety Chief Lyndon Overweg said the only police service dog in the area currently is owned by the South Dakota Highway Patrol.

All of the requests could be reconsidered at tonight's meeting.