Council begins looking at 2015 budget

Princeton City Council members made their first foray into setting the city’s budget for 2015 when they took up the topic at their Aug. 7 council study session.
The budget this year is about $3.74 million, and treasurer Steve Jackson said he wanted direction from the council on what it might want for its 2015 budget. He noted that Sept. 30 is the deadline for the city to certify a preliminary levy for the new year. The preliminary levy is the maximum of what the final levy could be when the council certifies it this coming December.
Some good news for the city is that its state assistance, or local government aid, will be $25,000 higher in 2015, according to Jackson. The city’s LGA this year is $813,075.
But there are some concerns on the revenue side, such as what kind of lease the city may get for its 10,000-square-foot building that the Federal Aviation Administration has been leasing for $65,000 per year in recent years. That lease is to end sometime this year and the FAA has closed out its flight service station there. Jackson suggested working on a different lease or even consider a different user for the building.
City Administrator Mark Karnowski said that in his negotiations with the FAA, the FAA suggested it may only want to rent a quarter of the building. He said he responded to the FAA negotiator that a quarter of the current rent wouldn’t be enough money to cover the city’s expenses for the building.
Also the city can’t lease any of the building to anything that is not airport related, “and we’re not going to go with Southwest or Delta airlines,” Karnowski said. “The crux of my argument is they (the FAA) want to maintain a presence (in the building) because of the electronic equipment that runs the building.”
Karnowski also told the council he didn’t think the FAA would allow anyone else in the building because of the FAA’s security requirements, but he still hopes for an “amicable agreement so the city is not losing.”
Another expenditure the council can think about, Karnowski continued, is to set up a microphone and speaker system at the council table. There have been comments from the public that they can’t hear everything the council is talking about, he said. There are also occasions the city may need to record things, he added.
Council Member Thom Walker in bringing up new possible expenditures, suggested the council consider starting a capital improvement fund for street projects.
Mayor Paul Whitcomb suggested the city consider a donation to the Princeton ambassador program and referred to a presentation earlier in the study session from former Princeton Ambassador Sylvia Michels about the program. The ambassadors do a lot of good for the city and the program’s operators are fiscally responsible, Whitcomb added.
Council Member Victoria Hallin suggested the city consider giving some financial assistance to the Mille Lacs County Historical Society’s depot museum in Princeton.
“I thought we were doing something,” Walker responded.
The city’s assistance is pretty significant, considering the city forgiving the utility and street assessment the historical society originally had, Karnowski said.
Karnowski then suggested the council consider save on engineering fees for some projects by going with a design and building process. One such project could be the paving of a mile-long trail from the city’s drinking water treatment on south to 313th Avenue in Baldwin Township.
The design and build process has the contractor doing the engineering as well as the construction work, versus the city having a separate engineering contract with an engineer. Often a local contractor will take a local design and build project and they would try to do good work because the “whole world would know who put it in, and so if it fails it would be bad PR,” Karnowski said.
Community Development Director Carie Fuhrman also brought up another possible expenditure for a new budget: a project to expand the city’s main industrial park.