It was new, even strange territory for Wadena City Administrator Janette Bower, who was pleased to share that a preliminary general fund budget for the city of Wadena appeared to show a surplus.

Some of the reasons behind the ability to operate in the black include a projected $100,000 increase in revenues over the current year, largely thanks to an increase in local government aid. Due to the surplus, it's the third year in a row, the city will not be raising the levy, in fact there is a decrease to the levy expected.

Due to the expected surplus funds, a number of other items are set to go into the 2020 general fund budget.

  • There was $35,000 budgeted for cleaning of HVAC, as well as paint and flooring in the city hall.
  • An increase of $41,000 to the Police Department would be used to cover the cost of new radios and two lease payments on two leased motor vehicles (one for 2019 and one for 2020). This amount would help the department pay for handheld communications in two years rather than three years and move away from buying vehicles outright.
  • In order to epoxy the north floor of the Fire Hall building, $15,000 was included in the fire department budget.
  • $50,000 was included to cover the third and final payment of a wheel loader for the street shop maintenance department.
  • $58,200 was included for the purchase of a Bobcat Toolcat, to be used for ice and snow removal in the city.
  • $36,000 was included in the parks budget for improvements to the bird enclosure at the zoo area ($18,000), a horseshoe fence ($8,000), and a new bandstand floor ($10,000).
  • An increase was noted for all part-time salaries in the city, something not done in the last two years.

A portion of the increases in the expense side of things included increases in health insurance costs, which Bower said were lower than anticipated, but still around an 8% increase over current fiscal year.

Uselman to retire as fire chief in January

One part of the budget that would have been a change in staffing was the idea to add a planning director position. Current planning and zoning director Dean Uselman is also the Wadena Fire Chief and the director of the Wadena Development Authority.

According to Bower, Uselman said he would be willing to continue as is, but he plans to resign as fire chief in January, likely continuing to serve on the fire department in some capacity.

City council members were offered two general fund budgets, one with the new planning director position and one without. They gave consensus to move forward with the budget that did not include the extra position.

"I think I'd like to see what happens with it, with him taking one hat off," Council member Wade Miller said, speaking to Uselman resigning his position as fire chief at the end of the year.

"I think the extra machinery is probably more important right now than creating that new position," Mayor George Deiss said.

"Taking one of the three hats off could be enough," Council member Mark Lunde said of the situation. He added that they may find that Uselman should continue directing both departments but perhaps someone could be brought on part-time to assist.

Bower said the council could see how it goes in 2020 and revisit the position next year. Adding the position would have tacked on roughly $80,000 in wages and benefits.

Using the budget that did not include the position showed a surplus of $10,125, which Miller suggested should go back into reserves.

Lunde commented that the city is largely in the black because they decided to borrow money rather than spend from general fund to pay for the large equipment expenses. The borrowing referred to is a bond worth $885,000 that the city will pay back over 10 years. With that money they'll be buying a new pumper truck, Case Loader, snowblower and a Bobcat Toolcat, also for ice ans snow removal. Getting that money now allows them to get all that new equipment in 2020, with the hope most of that equipment will last 20-30 years. The city will pay about $1 million over the course of the loan when interest is included.

In other actions, the council:

  • Authorized hiring Dawn Fisher as a part-time lifeguard at the Maslowski Wellness and Research Center.

  • Authorize hiring Maranda Waln as a part-time maintenance person at the Maslowski Wellness and Research Center.

The council looks at the budget again during their next regular meeting at 5 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 10.