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Albert Lea City Council asks where the 2020 budget can be cut

When the city of Albert Lea public safety director was pressed at Monday night’s Albert Lea City Council study session where the 2020 budget could take a cut, his answer was quick.

“I would like to say the HR department or the library,” J.D. Carlson said.

A similar joke was made by Albert Lea Public Library Director Peggy Havener as the three city departments presented their 2020 budgets to the City Council. Mayor Vern Rasmussen Jr. asked each of them where cuts could come from in their budgets, as the city is currently looking at an approved increase of 5.56% in its preliminary levy. The final levy will be voted on in December, and that number could go down, but not up.

The 2020 budget for public safety is approximately $6.28 million. This is an increase of 1.8% from last year’s budget, Carlson said.

The Police Department’s budget accounted for 64.4% of that number, and Albert Lea Fire and Rescue made up the remaining 35.6%. The Albert Lea Fire and Rescue budget would increase by 2.5% from the 2019 budget, while the Albert Lea Police Department budget would increase by 1.4% from 2019, Carlson said.

The big-ticket item for both departments is adding Lexipol offerings. Lexipol is a national company that offers constantly updated policies as well as online trainings. As police officers and firefighters are in high-risk, high-severity-risk professions, management puts a lot of value in policies and procedures, which can help with risk management, Carlson said.

Cuts to the public safety department would have to come out of training and prevention work, Carlson said. Though he does not believe in cutting prevention as the first pick, he said several of
the budget items are needed and there wouldn’t be much left to cut.

Havener said a cut to the library’s budget would translate to a cut in services offered to library patrons. The burgeoning cost to the library’s budget is Hoopla, a digital service that allows those with a library card to download electronic resources like movies, music, audiobooks and ebooks. She said use of the service has “exploded” in the last six months and those costs, projected to go up, are reflected in the 2020 budget.

“It seems to be inching up every month,” Havener said of Hoopla’s usage.

The 2019 year-to-date cost of Hoopla use has already exceeded the price tag for the whole of 2018.

The 2020 library budget includes $7,400 added to the audio visual section, a 24.67% increase from last year’s $30,000 for that section.

The library’s 2020 budget is approximately $1.12 million, up approximately $2,000 from last year’s budget, a 0.2% increase.

Hotspot costs are anticipated to be similar to the 2019 numbers. The library spent $26,910 on hotspots in 2019, Havener presented. The average number of pending requests is between 10 and 20, which can increase in the summer, she said. The library has 75 hotspots on offer now, according to library staff, but Havener said it has the demand to easily add another 30.

“The more we had, the more we could serve,” she said, adding later that it can be a help for low-income families who cannot afford wifi.

According to Albert Lea Human Resources Director Mike Zelenak, human resources is already making cuts in its 2020 budget, with less than half the expenses in expert and professional services — a drop from $51,850 to $22,475 — and smaller, $1,500 drops in both training and development and employee programs, respectively. The advertising budget would increase by $1,500 for employment ads.

However, Zelenak said some upcoming outcomes are hard to put a price tag on, including the compensation and classification study and the cost of living allowance.

While health insurance costs did not increase for the city this year, human resources continues to look for other options to reduce the price of coverage further, Zelenak said.

“We have very few people that decline our insurance coverage,” he said.

Zelenak’s presentation to the council did not include the overall anticipated expenditures of the 2020 budget for human resources.

The council also voted unanimously to approve an agreement with professional engineering firm WSB for a study of Snyder Fields and its facilities. The city is considering work on the facility, but Public Works Director Steven Jahnke said WSB will also look at alternatives for a facility within the city. Both an option for Snyder improvements or an alternate location will come with a timeline, layout and cost estimates. Preliminary findings are expected in December.

The city is entering a 20-year lease with Riverland Community College, which owns the Snyder Fields facility, that says funds spent on improvements to the property would be prorated back to the city on a time-based scale should Riverland terminate the lease.

There was one other bid for the baseball and softball field study. It was submitted by ISG and was for approximately $25,000, Jahnke said.

In other action, six ordinance changes were approved by the City Council. City Building/Zoning Administrator Wayne Sorensen said the changes were largely to clarify ordinances and, as far as he could tell, did not make the ordinances any more restrictive. The changes included:

• Ordinance 227, 13d, Chapter 62, Article III, Section 62-88: A change to clarify that a recreational vehicle parked in the side or rear yard does not need to have its parking area paved.

• Ordinance 227, 14d, Chapter 74, Article I, Section 74-2: A change that allows zoning officials to use discretion in naming which yard is the front yard for corner lots.

• Ordinance 227, 15d, Chapter 74, Article I, Section 74-18: A change that changes the setback of accessory buildings. Now, accessory structures are not allowed to be built fewer than 25 feet from the front property line or no closer than the property’s principal structure. The former setback was 60 feet. This 60-foot mark still applies if the principal structure is set more than 60 feet back from the front property line.

• Ordinance 227, 16d, Chapter 74, Article III, Section 74-256: A change that better addresses whether accessory structures must have paved driveways and also clarifies the width of driveways and flares.

• Ordinance 227, 17d, Chapter 74, Article III, Sect. 74-296: A change that does the same as the previous ordinance change.

• Ordinance 227, 18d, Chapter 75, Article V, Section 74-1046: A change that better defines driveways in certain districts and adds graphics to help illustrate ordinance intents.

 

About Sarah Kocher

Sarah covers education and arts and culture for the Tribune.

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