Council weighs options for financing future debt, costs for upcoming projects
By Tom Hintgen
Otter Tail County Correspondent
Several important city issues were addressed during a Feb. 10 work session of the Henning City Council, available by Zoom.
One of those key issues is the city’s annual debt payments.
“City residents need to understand that this is annual, not one time,” points out Henning Mayor Darren Wiese. “Every year we will have an additional $250,000 payment. That’s up and above what we currently owe.”
The mayor maintains that it would be wrong for city government to place that entire financial burden on city residents and not make necessary cuts at city hall.
“Residents cut their own budgets to manage increases in bills, and we in city government should do the same,” he said.
“It would only be fair if we (city government) take a minimum of half the burden at city hall and make cuts in our own budgets.”
He says that some budget cut suggestions, such as closing the senior citizens center building, “would not result in anything more than short-term solutions to a long-term problem.”
After figuring in rents collected and city use, the senior citizens card players portion is less than $2,000 a year to support the senior center.
The car club uses this building as well, and a church group pays rent. City supplies and mechanical equipment, which need to be located in a heated facility, are stored at the senior center.
Wiese says that the Landmark Center annual contribution, if removed, would yield no real gain to city taxpayers. That’s because utilities, insurance and maintenance would continue. Thus another proposed short-term solution.
The mayor, in order to address the issue and do what is needed in light of the large annual debt payments, suggests cutting two full-time employees at close to a combined $120,000. One would come from the clerical staff and the other from the public works staff.
Cutting the Health Savings Account (HSA) benefit of $3,200 per year for fulltime employees would save Henning taxpayers roughly $22,400.
“The aforementioned savings, combined, would amount to $142,400 in savings,” Wiese points out.
Other proposed cutback proposals, in addition to the Landmark Center, include operations at the city airport, food shelf building and even such things as salt that softens the city water. But again, Wiese feels these would be only short-term solutions.
Henning city government also needs to lead by example, Wiese said.
“We are a town that prides ourselves on the production of water and yet we at city hall pay for Culligan to bring in water for city hall,” he said. “Some staff members suggest we cut the use of softener salt that softens our water and have city residents buy their own softeners.”
Wiese also questions gourmet coffee from Farmers Brothers that is delivered to city hall when Folgers coffee can be purchased from the local grocery story.
In closing, the mayor says that special assessments and levies are not budget cuts, but are just different ways of billing the residents of Henning.
comments on city issues
Henning City Council member Tammy Fosse, who attended the council work session on Feb. 10, also addresses city debt.
She appreciates that the Henning council and Henning city staff members have been working hard to look at everything from projects to how time is spent to services provided.
“It’s my belief that we can find cuts in places that do not necessitate cutting city employees,” she said. “We need a continuation of the city staff quality of work that our community has been accustomed to and that the city requires.”
Fosse says the city of Henning currently has many buildings that are not being used to their full potential or need significant repairs.
“I propose we do a study on what consolidating and possibly decommissioning some of the buildings would save in the budget,” she said. “By looking at budgets overall, and administrative policies, we can find places where we could save money or find adjustments that better serve the needs of the community as a whole.”
Fosse adds that, “somehow the only number being discussed is $200 in six years.”
That refers to utility rates being raised $200 per month in six years, what some people believe the $250,000 in debt will equate to.
“This number, $200, was pulled from a worst case scenario of costs, plus the most aggressive option plus subsidizing Willow Creek,” she said. “Taking this approach was never voted on by the council. However, for some reason, this is the only approach or number being discussed in public forums.”
Fosse maintains that there are too many variables that can contribute to what actual costs will be.
“We need to take close looks at grants, cost of services, construction costs and other factors,” she said. “Right now it is too difficult to give a concrete answer as to what rates will exactly look like in the long term.”
She adds that comparing a cost in six years to a current income is also difficult, “since income amounts will change in that amount of time.”