Mayor Rossing asked for and received an audience with downtown stakeholders. About forty people, representing a broad cross-section of interests, showed up to discuss the police and fire stations and City budget balancing with Mary.
At this moment in time, the Council’s focus is on potential sites for the police station, feasibility analysis of the current site for the fire station, and whether or not to have the citizens vote on the financing. The Council’s cost target for both facilities is $8.5 million, although City Finance Director has suggested bonding for $12 million, in case of “extraordinary cost overruns”. Mayor Rossing said the cost of a referendum, estimated at $25,000, is a concern for some City leaders. The Council will make a decision on June 15th. More information is available on the City’s website.
Rossing noted that if the citizens do not support bonding for new facilities, bringing the existing facility up to code would cost $3.2 million, which would also be paid for by bonding. One audience member noted that when a new liquor store was being considered, the cost estimate for bringing the existing facility up to code was about $300,000 but the final cost was around $165,000, and offered the hope that similar savings might be achieved. The Mayor responded that it is prudent to be planning for a facility that will serve the community forty years from now.
Another audience member raised a concern about choosing a site that is relatively further from the center of the community and the resulting impact on the fire department’s I.S.O. (Insurance Service Office) rating, which has cost implications for property owners’ insurance. City Administrator Walinski replied that the location has a minimal impact on the rating, which is largely determined by equipment, training and water pressure.
Yet another audience member said that most of the financial focus has been on the cost of a new facility. He said over the forty-year life-span of the facility, the operating costs would far exceed the construction costs. Several audience members expressed hope that the City had accurately estimated the increased costs of operating two larger facilities. Mayor Rossing noted that Northfielders would need to do a better job of maintaining the city’s facilities than in previous decades.
The discussion of operating costs finally turned the group’s attention to the City budget. Rossing said that, depending on LGA (Local Government Aid) from the State, the 2010 operating deficit could be between $300,000 and $700,000. Several audience members offered that the news from last night’s State legislative session made the higher number likely. The Mayor noted that the budget gap for 2011 will be at least as much.
The Mayor said that she is aware that the business community advocates balancing the budget without raising taxes but that this would require cutting services. She asked if they would accept a cutback in the level of service for snow plowing. Several audience members offered alternative cuts, suggesting that fire, police and snow plowing should be preserved. Rossing and the audience seemed to agree that the citizens should prioritize core services.
When asked how the citizens might offer ideas for budget cuts, Mayor Rossing suggested that they could e-mail her. Administrator Walinski noted that there is a place on the City’s website where such ideas can be sent.
It was noted that time for these ideas is short. The first round of budget cuts must be implemented at the end of June.
An audio recording of the session is available on Locally Grown Northfield.