Minot council members rejected a plea for more help from the Finance Department Monday, but just barely.
Mayor Curt Zimbelman broke a 6-6 tie on the hiring of an additional accountant, siding with council members who objected to reopening discussions that they thought they had settled at budget time.
Finance director Cindy Hemphill had told the council's Finance and Improvements Committee last week that another accountant is needed because the department is falling behind in managing the finances of an increasing number of special assessment districts. The department also is falling behind in providing reports to granting agencies. Without timely grant reporting, the city could lose the funding. The committee was recommending that the council add the position.
But the council wasn't eager to add another position after coming through a budget process last fall in which they reduced more than 60 staff requests down to 31.5 new positions costing $2.26 million.
At budget time, the Finance Department had requested an accountant to serve as grant and project administrator, but the position didn't have the urgency of most other requested positions and was not funded. The council did approve $33,399 for a part-time internal auditor in the Finance Department, which had listed the position as an urgent need.
Council member Scott Knudsvig said if council members change their minds now, it would create a break with the normal budgeting process and procedure.
City adopts bypass policy
The City of Minot has a plan if it ever needs right of way for interchanges along the U.S. Highway 83 Bypass, but real estate representatives questioned the legality Monday.
The Minot City Council voted to adopt a policy that requires landowners to provide right of way for future interchanges to keep the bypass as a true bypass. The amount of land needed for an interchange exceeds typical right of way for a road.
Realtor Wayne Tuttle said the city should buy the acreage since an interchange project would affect the entire city.
"Think of this from a fairness standpoint," attorney Jon Backes said. "Is it really fair that one landowner should bear the entire cost of acquisition of his land for right of way in light of the rest of the development that's going on up there?"
City engineer Lance Meyer responded to legal concerns raised by Tuttle by noting that other cities have similar policies.
Tuttle also questioned the need for interchanges to handle the traffic. City engineers reported that traffic is expected to increase to levels warranting interchanges at key intersections.
"We are looking at a serious situation on the bypass," Mayor Curt Zimbelman said. "Anybody who has been through what we went through on the south side of town will know what we are going to go through if we don't take care of things now."
"I am not comfortable doing this piecemeal throughout the rest of the year," he said.
"Council member Dean Frantsvog, who called post-budget hiring a bad precedent, said he also is concerned about paying for the position using cash reserves.
"Our reserve fund is not flush with cash. If we want this position and it's necessary, we should find the money in the current budget and cut something that we funded out of the budget," he said.
The alternative to not filling the position isn't good, either, council member Bob Miller said, citing the danger of losing grant money.
"If we get in difficulty with the federal government on these programs, we will wish we had funded it," he said.
Voting for the additional hiring were Miller, Mark Jantzer, Dave Lehner, Kevin Connole, Larry Frey and Jim Hatlelid. Voting against were Knudsvig, Frantsvog, Milt Miller, Amy Moen, Lisa Olson, George Withus and Zimbelman.
The accountant position would have added $57,483 to the budget.
The council did add two sanitation positions to the budget at a cost of $70,881. The city has, in the past, contracted out its compost operation. It did not receive any bids this year so is adding staff and equipment to do the job in-house.
The council amended the sanitation budget Monday by $100,381 to pay for compost equipment and a full-time and a part-time light equipment operator. The full-time employee will be assigned to the compost sites for seven months and to the landfill or other roll-off related projects for the remainder of the year. The equipment includes a tarp system for the trucks and dumpsters at the sites.
Those equipment costs are in addition to bids awarded by the council Monday for other compost equipment used at the sites. Those awards went to Wastequip, $124,970 for containers; Westlie Truck Center, $66,500 for a truck and hook; and Sanitation Products, $28,519 for a frame and hoist. Funds are available for the compost operation from existing fund sources with the sanitation division.
Even before the need for arose for staff to manage the compost sites, the sanitation division had budget authority totaling $149,285 to to hire another light equipment operator, two laborers and a landfill heavy equipment operator, all of which were deemed urgent requests at budget time. The division requested another heavy equipment operator at the landfill, but the position was listed as less urgent and was not granted.