The Wadena City Council saw a drastic change to the 2019 budget at their second planning meeting Tuesday, Aug. 28, going from $675,000 over budget to just under $100,000 over. Thoughts on a way to balance the budget and save for the future were also discussed.
City administrator Janette Bower told council members she went through the budget line by line and slashed many of the major capital expenses, bringing the budget to about $99,000 in the red. But a plan to bond for fire department equipment could balance the budget and allow for the requested equipment.
An idea to bond for the fire department expense, about $400,000, came to Mayor George Deiss while mowing his lawn. Faced with a slew of major capital expenses, the council was looking for ways to cut costs. Deiss said with a $1 million bonding levy, paid for over 15 years, they could buy the fire department equipment, if that was the best option, and it would also allow funding to start a capital expense fund. That fund could be divided among all departments as capital expenses arise. It was the hope that a fund like that could help the city avoid year's like this one where many major expenses are coming at once with little money in reserves to pay for them.
Money that was reserved for the fire truck would make at least two years of payments towards the bonding, Deiss said.
The city council came to a consensus that they were interested in moving forward with a plan to bond for enough to by the new pumper truck as well as buying new protective breathing apparatus for the department, up to $400,000. They did, however, request from Fire Chief Dean Uselman that the department work to do more fundraising. Funds raised could go back to the general fund to help pay for some of the costs. Deiss suggested a golf fundraiser.
Uselman said the fire department is not opposed to doing their share of fundraising, but he's often heard that the department feels that other departments are not having to do such fundraising to pay for their major expenses.
Concerning budget revenue, Uselman suggested the council should look at the fact that the fire department charges for township runs but not in-town runs.
Uselman also brought up options to lease a pump truck but there was pushback from the council that bonding allowed for more money to give them a nest egg for future expenses, while paying for the current needs. Uselman said he agreed that bonding sounded like it could be a good way to move forward with funding that will allow the fire department to buy, what he said were the most important pieces of equipment they rely on.
Concerning the bonding, Bower still had to run some numbers to make sure the bonding would work in this instance. The council will hold another meeting discussing the budget in the near future.
Other cost cutting areas include removal of mapping expenses for Planning and Zoning department; reduction to the technology expenses for the Police Department; reduction in city election equipment; reduction in council technology expenses (iPads vs. laptops); removing a skid steer land leveler purchase; removing a used water truck; and removing the replacement of the bandstand floor among others.
What was added to the previous proposed budget includes an extra $2,000 towards books for the city library; an increase to the pool maintenance costs and allowing $105,000 for the construction of a splash park, which is partially offset by donations.
Bandstand closed until further notice
The Wadena City Council had discussed replacement of the floor of the bandstand located in Burlington Northern Park at a previous budget meeting. In an effort to cut costs, they put that project on hold. However, because of the safety concern of the floor and because there is not handicap accessibility to the historic structure, council members voted unanimously to close the bandstand until further notice. A sign and chain now block access to the site, which is a popular spot for those looking for Wifi or those who enjoy historic structures.
The bandstand, built in 1916, was restored in 2010, including a new cedar floor and new plaster surrounding the exterior.