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Akeley citizens raise concerns as council grapples with budget

Akeley citizens arrived in number to watch the council wade through the proposed 2010 budget in an effort to reduce the levy.

After a line-by-line review, the council trimmed $5,404, the proposed levy now totaling $227,954, including $68,724 for police. (The total is up $19,271 from the 2009 levy.)

But street and infrastructure projects are on the horizon, which will carry a hefty price tag. Some of them will be mandatory when the Department of Transportation makes improvements to Highway 34, expected to begin in 2011.

And other projects for street upgrades are being requested by citizens.

"I'm hearing there are a lot of maintenance needs," mayor Jennifer Mitchell said.

Councilor Cliff Johnson and maintenance supervisor Frank Thelin presented cost estimates for replacing the existing 50-year-old water main and paving, in conjunction with the MnDOT project.

This project is estimated at $163,000 for roadwork and $97,000 for the water main. Broadway, Hulet Avenue and First Street would see the improvements.

But the proposal is a fraction of what's needed, according to engineers' recommendations. A six-year capital improvement plan drafted by Ulteig Engineering calls for projects totaling nearly $1.9 million.

"We could be looking at a $400,000 levy next year," Mitchell cautioned, noting the water and sewer funds also lack money for repair and replacement.

Mitchell reiterated options on the police department: leave as is; cut hours, which she said would not save an appreciable amount, or disband.

"If we stay as is, we need to figure out how we'll pay for it," Mitchell cautioned.

"This is not about individual employees," Mitchell told residents expressing opposition to the measure. "It's about money. We need to drive on roads and we need water and sewer. I like a safe feeling. But we can't afford it right now."

"Who wants to be a victim?" Abigail's owner Ardelle McAlpine asked.

Citizens suggested freezing salaries, cutting employee hours or hiring Green Thumb (Experience Works) people.

Mitchell pointed out reducing hours of some could result in overtime for others, which would not be cost-effective.

A member of the audience asked what it would cost to contract with the county, as Nevis as done, hiring a sheriff's deputy. (Nevis agreed to $65,000.)

"It could be nothing," council member Jon Johnson remarked. Per statute, the sheriff's department must provide coverage if the department disbands.

Thursday, Cliff Johnson was meeting with Rural Development to explore grant options for improvements. But the city will be responsible for a percentage of the costs, he said.

"It's an opportune time for work," Johnson said of road and infrastructure projects. "Interest is low and contractors are hungry."