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Council trims 2007 budget

Mitchell City Council members swung their budget axes Tuesday evening and sliced enough from next year's budget to raise the projected cushion in the operational fund by $345,000.

Mitchell City Council members swung their budget axes Tuesday evening and sliced enough from next year's budget to raise the projected cushion in the operational fund by $345,000.

When budget hearings began last month, the projected 2007 year-end balance in the operational fund was $1 million. Cuts made Tuesday will raise that projection to about $1.345 million.

Council members wanted to increase the year-end balance to guard against negative economic influences, including the drought and the escalating costs of fuel and construction materials.

Tuesday's meeting -- a marathon that was in its fifth hour when this edition went to press -- was the last of the four scheduled hearings on the 2007 budget. Council President Ken Tracy said at the close of the public portion of the meeting that he was satisfied with the cuts, even though some council members indicated previously that they wanted to cut even more.

"We've got a lot more cushion than what he had going into this," Tracy said.

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The city's finance staff will now finalize the budget and prepare a 2007 appropriations ordinance for the council's consideration next month.

The cuts made Tuesday will impact all city departments.

The council reduced the proposed cost-of-living adjustment for the city's employees from 4 percent to 3 percent, which cut next year's originally projected payroll expense by about $75,000.

The council deleted $75,000 for the first phase of a proposed shooting range from the Police Division's budget, but told Public Safety Chief Lyndon Overweg to work with a consultant and come back with alternative plans and price ranges.

The council also cut Overweg's request for an additional firefighter/EMS position, which would have cost an estimated $47,000 in pay and benefits. The council reduced Overweg's request for in-car police video equipment by half, from $30,500 to $15,250.

The council rejected the Golf Board's request for $100,000 to expand and renovate the clubhouse at Lakeview Municipal Golf Course, and instructed the board and Golf and Cemetery Director Kevin Thurman to make do with the $75,000 that was earmarked for clubhouse improvements last year.

The clubhouse issue was perhaps the most controversial of the night. Councilman Dan Allen criticized Thurman for producing what Allen called a meager $954 in golf course profits last year.

"That's not very good, Kevin," Allen said. "You wouldn't be working for me if you made that."

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Thurman said additional profits were spent on improvements that kept the course among the top municipal golfing destinations in the state. He said the course could have shown a profit of $30,000 or more if some of the improvements had been delayed or canceled.

Councilman Allen Lepke made a motion to keep the $100,000 for the clubhouse in the budget, but the motion was defeated 5-3. Lepke, Tracy and Marty Barington voted in favor of the clubhouse request, while Allen, Doug Molumby, Travis Carpenter, Britt Bruner and Jeff Smith voted against it.

Thurman's cemetery budget also was cut. His $40,300 request for a columbarium -- a vault with individual, recessed cavities to store the remains of up to 90 people -- was deleted, as was his $2,500 request for an irrigation project at the cemetery. His $8,500 request for a mower was reduced to $5,000, but the council let him add $12,000 for tuck-pointing on some of the cemetery's concrete pillars.

A proposed $137,500 expenditure to help replace the bleachers at the rodeo arena was reduced to $65,000. Lance Carson, of Corn Palace Stampede Inc., said $65,000 from the city would be enough to help his group replace the section of bleachers that is in the worst shape. Some council members indicated they would be willing to help with the other bleacher sections in future years.

Corn Palace Stampede Inc. produces an annual professional rodeo at the arena. The current bleachers are wooden, require yearly repairs and are considered a potential liability risk. The new bleachers would be aluminum and would have a life expectancy of 30 to 50 years, Carson said.

The council cut an $8,000 storage shed from the Parks, Recreation and Forestry budget and instructed the department's director, Randy Ahrendt, to include the storage area in a planned $95,000 restroom at Cadwell Park. The council also trimmed Ahrendt's $15,000 request for playground equipment at the city's campground to $10,000.

The council discussed cutting $16,700 for edutainment displays and staff at the Corn Palace, but held off until Corn Palace Director Mark Schilling, who was away Tuesday at a conference, could be contacted. Councilman Britt Bruner said he wanted to postpone spending the money until the city gets the results of a planned tourism marketing survey.

Street and Sanitation Superintendent Ron Olson was told he'll have to drive a 1978 pickup for at least one more year, because the council cut $21,000 he had requested to replace it.

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A request for $15,000 to install a concrete floor in a water distribution building was cut, even though the money would have come out of the department's own business-type fund instead of the city's operating fund.

Some requests were approved. The council voted in favor of creating a new full-time position to manage the city's computer technology systems, at a cost to be estimated later by Human Resources Director Teri Bertness. The council also approved the creation of an additional full-time custodial position, at a cost of about $37,000 with benefits.

The council voted to increase the longevity pay it offers to employees, bumping the payout from $100 to $125 for employees who complete their sixth year and raising the stepped increases for subsequent years. The council also adjusted employee classifications to increase the potential maximum pay for department heads and higher-level administrators.

The council budged $10,000 to complete a quarter-mile section of bike path in the northwestern part of the city, even though the project would require more costly improvements to either a street or ditch, or the acquisition of right-of-ways. Councilman Jeff Smith and others said they wanted the bike path money in the budget as an indication of their commitment to the project.

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