City braces for deep cutsNo intern for the city planning department. No dispatcher or part-time community service officer for the police department. A tree removal and replacement program cut nearly in half. Health insurance costs tightened in every department to reflect a zero percent increase. Those are just some of the budget-cutting strategies the Alexandria City Council is proposing.
By: Al Edenloff, Alexandria Echo Press
No intern for the city planning department.
No dispatcher or part-time community service officer for the police department.
A tree removal and replacement program cut nearly in half.
Health insurance costs tightened in every department to reflect a zero percent increase.
Those are just some of the budget-cutting strategies the Alexandria City Council is proposing to deal with cuts to the market value homestead credit (MVHC) – reimbursements the state pays to cities for providing property tax relief for those with low incomes.
Based on what’s been happening at the state Legislature, the city expects the MVHC program will be eliminated.
At its meeting Monday night, the council reviewed how it will make up for a loss of all of its MVHC reimbursement – about $235,000.
The new budget figures – which have not yet been formally approved – do not take into consideration additional state cuts in local government aid (LGA) because no one knows how deep those cuts will go yet.
The council went through the budget during a three-hour work session with staff on March 22.
City Administrator Jim Taddei reviewed the council’s progress on Monday but recommended the council hold off approving the revised budget for now because the numbers are still a “moving target” that hinges on what happens at the Legislature.
The revisions call for a $28,500 increase in projected revenues. The increases include police state aid ($10,000), rental registration fees ($4,000), on-sale liquor licenses ($2,500), dog catching services ($1,000), gas commissions ($1,000) and other changes.
On the expense side, the city made cuts in 27 budget categories ranging from $30 to $52,590.
The police department, which also includes dispatching and animal control, is bracing for the biggest cuts – a total of $97,060. This includes not hiring two positions – a full-time dispatcher at the new police station and a part-time community service officer.
The park department is looking at the next biggest cut, $21,050. This includes reducing its tree removal and replacement program from $25,000 to $14,500.
Reductions in supplies, equipment and repairs in several different departments also brought the budget down. The street department’s supplies for blacktop repair, for example, may be chopped from $100,000 to $90,000.
The revised budget proposal has a tiny bit of wiggle room. The cuts are sufficient enough for the city to put $30,000 in its capital improvement fund, which may be in jeopardy if the state cuts go deeper, Taddei said.
The revised budget, Taddei emphasized, only makes changes in revenues and expenses; the city’s 2011 tax levy, which was already approved last year, can’t be changed and remains at just under $5.3 million.
Taddei thanked the council for “doing an excellent job” adjusting to the MVHC cuts.
“It’s good to see the council being pro-active,” Taddei said.
Council member Virgil Batesole, who has been urging the council to prepare for state cuts for weeks, said the proposed revisions are a good start.
Council member Sara Carlson said the city won’t really know how the budget will pan out until the legislative session is over.
In addition to the budget, the council acted on several other items during its two-hour meeting. The council:
• Joined the fire department in honoring seven people who helped save the lives of a family in a house fire.
• Agreed to close a section of 2nd Avenue to accommodate the Awake the Lakes celebration on Memorial Day weekend.
• Approved a revised schedule for the Viking Speedway’s upcoming season.
• Approved plans for the Chain of Lakes Triathlon on May 7.
• Approved an on-sale liquor license for Bug-A-Boo Bay, which expects to open in May under new local ownership.
• Agreed to block off streets for the Passion Drama at Zion Lutheran Church on April 17 and 19.
• Approved a preliminary plat for Rosewood Meadows southeast of Woodland Elementary School.
• Approved the Alexandria Area 2030 Transportation Plan.
• Approved bids for street overlay projects this summer.
• Approved bids for the phase 3, part 2 waterline extension project in newly annexed areas once located in Alexandria Township.
• Revised its substance abuse/drug and alcohol testing policy for city employees to include members of the Alexandria Fire Department.
Read upcoming issues of the Echo Press for more city council coverage.