Weather Forecast


Council backs off limiting city employees

The Mitchell City Council backed away from imposing a strict limit on the number of people employed by the city during the second of the city's annual budget hearings Wednesday night in Council Chambers at City Hall.

At Tuesday night's budget hearing, the council agreed to a new set of rules, proposed by Councilman Steve Rice, to follow during the budget process, including a vow not to increase the total number of city employees.

The city currently has 175 full-time employees, according to budget documents. But, on Wednesday night, Mayor Ken Tracy said that figure did not include City Administrator Stephanie Ellwein, who started with the city last month.

Instead of a strict limit, the council unanimously agreed to allow Ellwein to evaluate each department's staffing situation, including requests for new positions, and then present recommendations to the council at a later date.

At the beginning of Wednesday night's meeting, Tracy criticized the council's decision to restrict the city to a specific number of employees.

"Even though we may have more employees now than we had 10 years ago, I think that there is justification for it," Tracy said.

Requests to add at least six new jobs to the city's payroll were 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.

Tracy said he wasn't advocating for a large increase in the number of city employees, but he thinks the city's department heads have been very responsible in their requests for additional staff.

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.

A budget hearing scheduled for Thursday was canceled because the council addressed those agenda items during the first two nights.

Project updates

Tracy presented the council with a proposed layout for the new city hall planned for southern downtown, prepared by Architecture Inc., of Sioux Falls, the firm designing the project for the city.

According to the layout, the new city hall would be a two-story structure located at the corner of North Main Street and West First Avenue, with parking lots directly to the west of the building, and others in the area.

The first floor would have city offices, including the mayor's office, two conference rooms and the council's meeting room, which would have about 100 seats.

The second floor would have additional city offices and conference rooms, and a staff break room. There would also be a basement, with space for storage and future expansion.

Puetz Corporation, the project's construction manager, is working to estimate a cost for the project based on the architect's plans, Tracy said, and that figure should be available later this month.

The existing City Hall building, which is attached to the Corn Palace, will be renovated to house tourism exhibits as part of the second phase of the two-phase renovation of the city-owned tourist attraction.

About 80 percent of the demolition inside the Corn Palace has now been completed as part of the nearly $7.2 million renovation project, according to Terry Johnson, the city's deputy public works director.

"It's just fantastic to see what's going on inside," he said.

Inside the lobby, a slab of concrete that once separated the first and second floors has been completely removed, near where large windows will open to a walk-out balcony above the marquee.

The cost of construction for the first phase is expected to be about $3.64 million, with a 10 percent contingency taking up the rest of the $4.2 million budget for the first phase. A local company, Mueller Lumber, was awarded the bid for the construction by the council in May.

The project is at least on schedule, if not slightly ahead of schedule, Johnson said.

A $2.2 million renovation of the Mitchell Public Library, which includes an expansion of the east and west sides of the library, and a new circulation desk, is expected to be completed by Sept. 15, according to Jackie Hess, the library's director.

Funding requests

The Mitchell Exchange Club asked for, and was granted, an increase in funding from $7,500 to $10,000 to pay for the city's portion of the Fourth of July fireworks show at Lake Mitchell.

Troy Eilts, the club's president, told the council the price of fireworks has continued to increase in the last few years, and the event's organizers have also considered extending the length of the fireworks show.

"I think it's an event that brings people into Mitchell," Eilts said.

Councilman Marty Barington endorsed the funding increase and said the show is valuable to the city.

"Putting on a show that's even better from year to year is important for the community," Barington said.

The Mitchell Area Safehouse was granted an increase in funding from $3,000 to $5,000, and Marilyn Haley, the facility's director, said she also asked for an increase in funding from United Way.

Councilman Mel Olson supported the increase in funding for the facility.

"Frankly, these people are saving us money by providing this private service," Olson said.

Mitchell Main Street & Beyond did not ask the council for an increase in funding, but asked for a three-year commitment at its current level of $43,000. The council agreed to maintain the group's current funding, and recommended it remain at least at that level for three years.

The council approved an additional $40,000 for the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village to pay for a sewer project at the facility, in addition to the $15,000 in city funds the facility receives.

The council also voted to include $3,000 in the proposed budget to pay for the annual cost of a police service dog for the Mitchell Police Division, after Mitchell Public Safety Chief Lyndon Overweg said he believes the city will get funding in the future from the South Dakota Attorney General's Office to pay for the dog.