The last meeting of the year for the Rushford City Council, Monday, December 26, brought continued discussion of the city levy and budgets. For nearly 45 minutes, the council hemmed and hawed over where cost savings could be found, if any.
Outgoing Councilor Vern Bunke had urged the council to review the budget and look for areas of potential savings, such as within the public works and police overtime/part-time budgets. Both Mayor Chris Hallum and Councilor Terri Benson had previously noted the budget held no obvious areas of inefficient spending.
The $913,000 levy represents a 5.3% increase over the 2017 levy of $867,000. The net increase represents a 15.4% reduction in operating expenses, but a 20.7% in debt service. Benson has frequently stated she’s not a fan of letting budgets and the levy creep up unnecessarily, preferring to take a look at the whole picture, what services the funds provide for, and where savings can be made without sacrificing the type of community Rushford wants to be.
“I’m very respectful of anybody’s money, especially when it’s not my own. It’s about our community and how we want to move forward,” said Benson.
Bunke reiterated his stance that the city should be as lean as it possibly can. According to Bunke, by reducing the public works and police budgets and making a transfer from a healthy fund, such as the electric fund, the city could capture the amount needed to pay the additional debt service costs.
“I’ve never been a fan of robbing Peter to pay Paul,” responded Benson. “It always has to be paid back.” It was also mentioned that city utility or project funds are already designated for certain purposes. A number of improvement projects have been done recently and while funds are healthy, they are also running lean.
“I’m not saying I disagree, ‘cause I don’t. There’s always a little that can be trimmed. But, I also agree that you don’t want to set yourself up for budget failure,” said outgoing Councilor Mark Honsey. “Operating expenses are down. The increase is for debt service. I take spending these dollars very seriously.”
“At some point, expenses do creep up,” added Mayor Chris Hallum. “We have to be responsible and watch our spending. We owe it to the whole town. I don’t see any irresponsibility in the budget.”
“This body does have a responsibility,” agreed Bunke. “If there’s a nickel to be saved, that’s not our nickel. It belongs to the people and we should save it for them. I’m not saying we should get down to pennies, but pennies add up.” The final levy was approved unanimously.
In other news, the city has concluded some accounting to clear the deficit left by the former municipal liquor store fund. The city business had deficits for several years after reopening in a newly constructed building following the 2007 flood. It has been closed and vacant for several years and recently sold to Destiny Life Church.
The city has received official notice from Minnesota Management & Budget Commissioner that it has complied with requirements of reimbursement to the state for the sale. Total state/Federal Emergency Management Agency funds to rebuild the site after the flood were $731,409. Of that, 25%, or $182,852, of the state’s funds needed to repaid if the building was sold. With the sale of the building and necessary fees, along with repayment to the state, $9,584 remains to apply to the liquor fund deficit. After transfers from the general fund, the liquor fund will be zeroed out.
The fund deficit has been a topic of conversation on years of audits and the council had previously discussed how the sale would play into accounting to clear the fund. Councilor Mark Honsey has specifically stressed getting the fund zeroed out and his frustration with seeing it on the audit year after year. There was a bit of a light moment when Mayor Hallum joked, “We thought that was going to come from you,” pointing at Honsey when Benson made a motion to allow city staff to do the accounting and clear the fund.
“She beat me to it!” Honsey joked in return. “Do your magic,” he said to City Clerk/Treasurer Kathy Zacher.
The remainder of the meeting was held in closed session for the annual review of City Administrator Tony Chladek.
The next regularly scheduled council meeting is Monday, January 8, at 6:30 p.m., at city hall. The public is encouraged to attend.