City inches closer to 2020 budget; Administrator position to stay put
On Tuesday, Oct. 29, the city’s Committee of the Whole (COW) met for another budget session at Merrill City Hall.
The COW voted on key budgetary items, as well as discussing Mayor Derek Woellner’s proposals to reduce the city’s payroll.
While discussing the 2020 budget, 8th District Alderman Steve Sabatke made a motion to send the $300,000 proposal to build a new T-Hanger at the Merrill Airport back to the Airport Commission, effectively taking it out of the 2020 budget.
The motion was seconded by 2nd district Alderman Steve Hass, who pointed to Merrill’s drop in credit rating as a reason why the city can’t afford this project. City Administrator Dave Johnson was opposed to the idea, stating that it would be easier for the airport to receive grants for the project, if it were to stay in the budget.
5th District Alderman John Van Leishout and Finance Director Kathy Unertl agreed.
Ultimately the motion would pass by a 5-4 vote; Mayor Woellner, Council President/7th District Alderman Rob Norton, Van Leishout and 3rd District Alderman Rick Blake, dissenting.
Later in the meeting, Sabatke motioned, seconded by Hass, to remove $40,000 allocated for repairs of the livestock barn at the Merrill Festival Grounds, from the 2020 budget; stating he believes it could be done for a cheaper price. Norton and Johnson pointed to the building’s blatant safety code violations, as a reason why it needed to remain in the budget. The motion would fail by a 6-3 vote. Voting in support of the measure were Sabatke, Hass and 4th District Alderman Steve Osness.
In other budgetary matters last Tuesday, Mayor Woellner moved to reintroduce a $140,456 expense for solar panels to be built at the MARC (Merrill Area Recreation Center), stating it is one of the only cost-neutral investments the city could make, as it pays for itself with a smaller electricity bill. Alderman Van Leishout seconded the motion, however after some deliberation the motion would fail by a 5-4 vote.
Woellner, Van Leishout, Blake and Norton voted in favor of the measure.
CoW members also looked at ways to cut down on payroll expenses for the city last week, as it is one of the largest expenses in the budget.
Mayor Woellner introduced a list of ideas on how that can be done, which included the removal of the city administrator position. When brought to attention at the meeting, Alderman Osness quickly asked that it be removed from discussion, to which Woellner obliged. Another idea that Woellner presented was the elimination of the city attorney position, however that too was shut down.
Council President Norton cited a study that showed it would be more expensive for the city to bring in outside council.
The final piece that Woellner presented was a voluntary 32-hour work week. Norton asked it be removed from discussion, stating there are salaried employees already working over their 40-hours a week. After a brief discussion, no action was taken on the matter.
The COW will look to have the 2020 city budget completed by Nov. 12, at their final budget session of the year.