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Detroit Lakes City Council continues to cut costs

The Detroit Lakes City Council has decided on many of the cuts that will make up for local government aid cuts, low interest returns and tapering off of building permit values.

Earlier this month the council approved four changes including the Regional Drug Task Force membership fee; single only hospitalization for council, mayor and public utilities commission members; reduce capital equipment budget; and combining the garbage and solid waste hauling for the city.

Last night, Tuesday, the council approved five more components of the budget revision recommendations. Council aldermen deferred two final cuts due to the mayor's request for more time to look into other options.

All cuts will be implemented by April 1 or before.

One of the revenue sources will be a street lighting fee, where each utility customer will be charged $1 a month for street lighting costs. It will raise $36,000 annually.

Another reduction will be the part-time park maintenance staff.

Public Works Director Brad Green said he will look into working with volunteers on such programs as watering hanging flower baskets and flower beds around town.

"We need to make lemonade out of lemons," he said.

Litter and trash pick up, raking the beach and the frequency of mowing will all be affected -- as will setup for events throughout the summer.

"By the end of the summer, I suspect people will notice more than they realize," Alderman Bruce Imholte said.

Green said it will especially be noticeable when it comes time for the larger events such as Art in the Park, the Street Faire, Northwest Water Carnival, etc. He added that he has contacted Minnesota Rural CEP about having teens that work through CEP get jobs for the summer at the parks.

Another cut will be the city's funding and running of the summer recreation coordinator and programs. Instead, the city will contract with the Detroit Lakes Community and Cultural Center for the summer recreation program, though it will not be changed for the public. Kids will still be able to attend summer rec for free, it will just be administered through the DLCCC.

"If the council approves this, we're going to be drafting our contract tomorrow," City Finance Officer Lou Guzek said.

The city will contract with the DLCCC for three years for $45,000 each year.

The city pays 25 percent of the community education and recreation director's salary and benefits. The school district pays the remaining 75 percent for the community education portion. Even if the school doesn't contract the education portion out, the city will not participate in the director's salary anymore. The school district is still discussing options.

As for the city's contract with the DLCCC for the summer recreation program, it will likely be approved at the March regular city council meeting. The DLCCC will still work with the city, through the park board.

Other cuts that didn't cause much, if any, discussion included the adjustment of code enforcement cost to 80 percent of building permit fee revenues and cutting the $8,000 airport capital funding.

The two cuts being deferred are the elimination of lifeguards at the city beach and swimming lessons and the elimination of warming house staff at the outdoor rinks.

The city received a letter from the Chamber of Commerce and the Tourism Bureau, asking the city not to discontinue the lifeguards on the beach due to their tourism benefits. Imholte suggested the chamber help pay for the lifeguard wages.

Cost of the lifeguards is $34,000, with revenue of $7,000 from swimming lessons, making the total cost to the city of about $27,000 a year.

The city has discussed several options -- and will continue to do so since deferring it -- including lowering the number of lifeguards from nine to four, which would cut an estimated $20,000. One of the four hired would serve as supervisor also, since current supervisor Mark Greenig is retiring as of April 1.

The city has also looked at shortening the 10-week summer and the number of days on the beach -- which has been seven days a week in the past. There would be no swimming lessons offered through the community recreation program and the city. Lessons would be available through the DLCCC though.

"I'd rather see it cut than done half (heartedly)," Alderman Jim Anderson said. He added that if anyone thinks four 16-21 year olds will cover the entire 10 weeks, seven days a week they are basically kidding themselves.

To back that up, Guzek said last summer Greenig was in the lifeguard chair several times just to cover shifts.

The other matter the city has deferred for further discussion is the discontinuation of warming house staff, which would mean no warming house for winter skaters.

"If you can get volunteers, great. If not..." Alderman Leonard Heltemes said.

"This is the perfect opportunity to get volunteers," Anderson agreed.

The city has discussed shortening the hours of the outdoor rink to 1 to 8 p.m. With the possibility of the land Lincoln Rink sits on being sold to MeritCare, the city plans to relocate the rink to People's Park, next to the skate park, which could see several positives.

The heating system could be changed to electric rather than wood, eliminating the need for a staffer at the warming house the entire time it's open. Also with the move being across from the arena, the hired worker there could come in an hour earlier to get the warming house set up and check in periodically throughout the evening.

It would also be more efficient to have the rink located across from the arena for maintenance purposes.

The council will likely discuss the two deferred options at March's regular city council meeting.