The Backus City Council on Monday, Sept. 9, approved a preliminary 2014 tax levy and budget pending final decisions to be made at the meeting that was recessed to Thursday, Sept. 12.
The preliminary 2014 proposed levy is $138,165, up approximately $3,500 or 3 percent from this year’s levy. Inflation and operating costs are contributing to the increase, though the council also hopes to devote more money to street repair in the next year.
Though the preliminary levy was approved, the meeting was officially recessed until Thursday to give the council time to review a proposed contract for public safety from the Cass County Sheriff Department. So changes could still be made Thursday. The city currently contracts with the Pine River Police Department at a cost of $35,867 for 20 hours a week of police service, or 1,040 hours per year, though the sheriff’s department also responds to calls within the city.
During preliminary contract discussions in March, estimates from the sheriff’s department said the department was paid $40 an hour for a casual coverage in similar cities depending on the services offered.
Council members are considering contracting with Cass County for eight to 10 hours per week of services, which could save the city as much as $20,000.
Council member Rae Borst said the decision must be made early, so the Pine River Police Department could present the final decision to the city of Pine River at the soonest possible date, allowing Pine River the chance to consider the results of the contract decision for its own 2014 budget.
A resident asked suggested the city might save money by cutting council members instead. It was explained that the council was formed with five members according to state regulations, and the members are paid $75 for regular meetings and $20 per other meeting.
Board members Borst and Richie Bean said money saved through a public safety contract or other means would most likely be used for expensive city road improvements.
In addition to the police contract, council members will discuss whether to renew a contract with Lakes Gas for propane at the recessed meeting. The current price offered by Lakes Gas was $1.399 per gallon up to a certain amount. Council members had further questions concerning the proposed price and stipulations, and decided to make a final decision once more information is available at the reconvened meeting.
In other business, the council:
• Heard that a wood stove was found and excavated from the swimming beach on Rocky Dock.
• Learned from city water/wastewater operator Lee Bundy that the treatment facility will be doubling the volume of chlorine in the water treatment to combat the effects of increased water usage during the wastewater project.
• Approved a bid by Integrated Process Solutions to rehabilitate the city water pump house near the water tower for $79,765.
• Unanimously approved the increase of sewer rate fees from $35 per customer per month to $39 effective Oct. 1.
• Approved a 10 mph speed limit for Point Road and Lakeside Drive, both of which are narrow, one-way roads where residents say 30 mph speeds are dangerous. The road would be treated as an alley.
• Approved ordering snowplow wings for $800.
• Learned that the Backus Fire Department has failed its most recent state audit because of excess funds in the reserve balance fund. This was due to multiple reasons, including reduced firefighter recruitment numbers and the early retirement of multiple firefighters, which caused the benefits they had earned during their service to flood the fund when they left.
The department was forced to comply with state requirements for the fund or lose 64 percent of its funding. The department made adjustments to meet state requirements, including adjusting firefighter benefits. Fire chief Jason Smith explained that benefits would need to change further if more firefighters leave the department early or if more are recruited.