BAXTER — An early look at the 2014 budget was before Baxter City Council members Tuesday night with a discussion ranging from fire districts to trails and roads.
Council members looked at goals and priorities.
“There are so many balls in the air at the same time,” said Council member Jim Klein.
A pavement management plan was at the top of the list for several council members with the city looking at costs to maintain and improve pavement. Klein said the council will have to look hard at all the budget issues unless someone is going to give the city more than $300,000.
Council member Todd Holman said to make decisions on priorities the council needs to know costs associated with a number of projects. Pavement management included $382,200 of seal coating costs for 2014.
The city is looking to hire a development director and assistant city administrator and Holman said the city may have a need to look at its own strategic plan.
“It seems like something like that should fit into the 2014 budget cycle,” Holman said.
Holman’s short list included trails, transit and organized waste collection. Holman questioned what the cost may be for snow removal on trails and for a study of organized waste collection along with potential policy development for it.
Holman said paring down the list is hard when a lot of the ideas are important.
“Everyone wants to hold the line and we’ve done that with reason — the economy wasn’t good and hasn’t been good, but you reach a point where you do that too long and your roads are crumbling,” said Mayor Darrel Olson. “What are those priorities? That’s our job to figure out.”
Olson said the city also needs to maintain what it has and be prudent about it.
City Administrator Gordon Heitke said sharing the idea of a unified waste hauler approach, which cities have used to limit the number of waste disposal trucks operating in the city, is tied to the idea of extending pavement life. Heitke said that is a discussion typically sparking a lot of resident discussion as people wonder why the city is restricting who they can do business with and that may be a good informational discussion at the Sept. 14 town meeting.
Heitke said in the past few years, out of necessity with the Great Recession, the city used backward budgeting by setting a levy first and moving backward instead of assessing needs, costs and then setting the budget.
“The economy is not terrific yet,” said council member Rob Moser. “I’m also in the camp of keeping things close yet for 2014. I don’t think it’s going to be a break-out year for anybody. Just to stay the same we’ve got to reduce expenses.”
For fire contracts, Finance Director Jeremy Vacinek noted Brainerd is projecting an increase of 13.58 percent for Baxter.
Baxter’s share was $239,268 in 2012 and $244,756 in 2013. Vacinek reported Brainerd sent an optional invoice with Baxter’s share for the 2013 $72,000 shortfall because of the loss of the federal SAFER grant to pay for two firefighters, would have been an additional $16,337 for 2013.
Klein asked if Baxter could have any input into the decision regarding the two firefighters, which prompted a discussion broached recently of developing a fire district.
Olson said in a true fire district everyone has a say in it, but right now Baxter is a customer of fire protection services. A few years ago, Olson noted Brainerd talked about eliminating full-time firefighters but at the last minute council members changed their minds. When the SAFER grant didn’t come through, Brainerd revised its budget to include the two firefighters anyway and handed out revised numbers startling a number of people, Olson said. If the county pulls out Unorganized Territory, Baxter officials noted the city will have potentially more expenses to absorb.
“The fire department does a great job,” Olson said. “It’s never about the department itself. It’s about costs.”
Other priorities on Holman’s list included transit.
Currently, Holman said the Brainerd-Crow Wing County Transit Authority buses operate on fixed routes from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. But Holman said to really make that system work so people could use the buses to go to work it would need to run from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. To do that two more buses would be needed. Holman said it seems there is a role for Baxter to participate in the transit authority a little more. Holman said it starts with a study to see if the ridership numbers are there to support it.
Another budget work session is expected at 6 p.m. Aug. 27, to review proposed budgets and levy. Completion of the preliminary budget and levy is expected Sept. 11.
The state Legislature implemented levy limits for 2014, but Vacinek said the limits are not as restrictive as previous levy limits. Baxter continues to not receive any local government aid. Baxter’s levy limit is almost $1 million higher than what the city levy is, Vacinek said.