Councilors buried in budgetCloquet City Councilors and Mayor Bruce Ahlgren held another short formal council meeting Tuesday, only to put in considerable time before and after the meeting discussing the city’s preliminary budget for 2014 for the second time in three weeks.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
Cloquet City Councilors and Mayor Bruce Ahlgren held another short formal council meeting Tuesday, only to put in considerable time before and after the meeting discussing the city’s preliminary budget for 2014 for the second time in three weeks.
On the bright side, the legislature and governor approved an increase in local government aid (LGA), which means Cloquet will see $2.299 million in 2014. In 2013, the city had received $1.968 million, and officials had projected LGA would actually decrease to $1.846 million rather than jumping by more than $330,000.
During the recession — when the state actually unallocated some promised LGA funds — elected officials and city staff had decided to “wean” the city off its reliance on LGA and budgeted less-than-promised each year. City Administrator Brian Fritsinger explained that the city will re-allocate any extra monies toward future capital projects.
Other items of note in the budget included the following (bearing in mind that discussions are all tentative at this stage):
+ The budget for the Cloquet Police Department was increased to reflect an increase in the overtime budget from $100,000 to $135,000 to be more in line with actual overtime. Police Chief Wade Lamirande noted the department expects to hire a new police officer within five or six weeks, which should eliminate some of the current overtime issues. However, he noted, some of the overtime costs occur because of vacations, while others are caused by case work (especially by the detectives) that can’t necessarily be completed in an eight-hour workday.
Lamirande said hiring an additional detective could be one way of addressing the overtime issue, but said he is hoping the police department staffing and facilities analysis currently underway will offer information to help with any changes in the department.
+ Increases in the street department budget include increased costs for fuel ($15,000) and liability insurance ($4,500 increase) as well as blacktop for patching, a $4,000 increase.
In response to a question from the council, City Engineer Jim Prusak said staff members have tried different methods of patching, with similar success rates.
“We’ve experimented with everything from rollers to hand tamping, and they’re all about the same,” Prusak said, adding that water is generally the culprit when potholes become chronic, citing the one at the entrance to the Pine Tree Plaza as an example.
Street light costs are also increasing, due to a recent increase in people knocking down lights.
Winter costs are expected to be lower, with the cost of salt and other chemicals decreasing.
City Administrator Brian Fritsinger said two items recently discussed by city officials — increasing the number of flags and street decorations to every pole and plowing some of the main sidewalk routes in town — are not yet included in the budget because more discussion and investigation is needed.
+ Library Director Mary Lukkarila told the council she is hoping to increase one part-time position from 13 to 20 hours per week and re-open the library on Friday mornings, a cost cutting move taken in the past when the city had to cut its budget unexpectedly. She noted the library was still down one full-time position since that time.
Lukkarila said the biggest changes at the library relate to electronic book formats. The library is offering a new eMagazine service, and staff are spending time teaching people how to use the myriad e-readers available.
Fritsinger mentioned past unsuccessful requests to the Carlton County Board of Commissioners to contribute financially to the Cloquet library, since nearly 50 percent of the library’s users are county residents from areas outside Cloquet.
The council will discuss a possible capital improvements budget at its next meeting on Aug. 6. The council work session starts at 5:30 p.m. with the formal meeting set for 7 p.m. at Cloquet City Hall, Council Chambers.