To balance the 2004 budget, the city of Brainerd will have to eliminate at least $201,661 from various departments.
That task was started in a special budget meeting Tuesday by the Brainerd City Council.
By cutting $201,661 and balancing the budget, City Administrator Dan Vogt said the proposed tax rate would be at 46 percent in 2004, up from 37 percent in 2003.
In his proposed budget cuts, Vogt included the elimination of the park director position, which would save $74,910; changing police officers' health insurance, saving $42,000; cutting council miscellaneous funds, saving $30,000; allocating the engineering technician salary to the construction fund, saving $5,000; reduce janitor position to 30 hours per week, saving $10,400; and using only revenue generated from rental housing inspections to pay for housing inspections, saving $33,000.
By using $100,000 from water and sewer connection fees for the Riverside Drive improvement project bond issue and by lowering the equipment certificate by $150,000 -- both of which are outside the levy limit -- the tax rate could be lowered to 42 percent, said Vogt.
Council member Bob Olson presented his own recommended budget cuts, several of which matched Vogt's, to reduce the budget by $275,436. Some of Olson's other budget-reducing ideas included $7,900 from professional development from the budgets of the mayor and council, administration, engineering, planning, inspections, parks and recreation and street and sewer departments. Olson recommended $40,000 be cut from the council's miscellaneous fund, $1,750 from the mayor's contingency fund, $500 for an administration award registration.
Council member Kelly Bevans suggested the city could bill organizations which receive a levy from the city when city resources are used. An example, which Police Chief John Bolduc supported, would be the extra police time used by Brainerd Community Action for the Fourth of July parade in Brainerd. Other groups receiving a levy from the city include the Economic Development Authority and the Northland Arboretum. Vogt, who acts as EDA director, suggested part of his salary could be paid by the EDA.
Council member Mary Koep, who served as council president in the absence of Dehen, said she would like to see the levy reduced by at least a few more percentage points.
"People are less concerned with who is taxing them than the bottom line," said Koep. "Remember, there's people out there, with no significant increase in salary and living on a fixed income."
Noting the $450,000 the city received in its buyout from the Law Enforcement Center and the estimated $500,000 the city will receive with the sale of 61 acres of land near Brainerd Regional Human Services Center, Koep suggested those reserves could be used to lower the levy.
Olson suggested the city look into selling all or part of the Ahlm property, 112 acres of land on Beaver Dam Road that the city purchased for $360,000 in 2000 for park land and is currently paying $45,000 per year on.
Council member Lucy Nesheim disagreed with Olson, saying the property will be needed for park land in the future.
"We were proactive when we bought the Ahlm property, realizing growth in the area," said Nesheim. "As long as we were far-sighted enough to take action, we got to preserve it."
"Right now we need money," Olson responded. "Don't let the people of Brainerd pay for more parks, let the people out there developing to pay for it."
One area the council seemed reticent to cut was the equipment needs of the fire department. Brainerd Fire Chief Kevin Mahle included in his budget requests replacements for a tanker truck and a ladder truck. Olson also said he would like to see the fire department's $250,000 request for a tanker truck be paid for out of the LEC funds.
No action was taken on the proposed budget cuts Tuesday.
The council approved by a 4-1 vote increasing the salary of the three park supervisors by $300 per month per supervisor. Olson voted against the increase, saying while the supervisors deserve a pay increase he felt the amount was too high. Council member Jim Dehen and Gary Scheeler were absent from Monday's meeting.
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