5/16/2013 4:14:00 PM North Branch Council hears P.D. support and accepts audit
by DENISE MARTIN
Several citizens used the public microphone portion at the start of the North Branch City Council meeting to continue to stress the council should not be looking into dissolving North Branch’s police department. During recent council meetings people have thrown their support behind the department and asked council to reconsider what is perceived as a behind-the-scenes attempt to contract with the sheriff for policing. Monday night a retired Chief of Police, Doug Brown, took his turn. Brown said it was stressful to coordinate a department start-up when he came to North Branch years ago when the local department was being organized. He cautioned council that eliminating the police department just creates more expenses down the road when police will certainly need to be provided as the city grows.
“When so many people are supporting what you have, you should listen to them,” he advised. Council has not recorded a vote on investigating dissolution of the department. Council has discussed the department as a line item budget reduction measure in informal work sessions. Reportedly there is a “Request for Proposals” that has been forwarded to the sheriff seeking cost estimates to contract with the county for North Branch’s law enforcement. Citizen Mic Dahlberg asked who authorized this action and when? He wondered if this is an example of “...the mayor’s call for transparency in government.” Cities don’t reduce budgets by eliminating “essential services,” Dahlberg stated. Stacy Johnstone, who is employed by the school district, noted that the police resource officer’s services at the school sites are invaluable and said the department “...is one of the good things we’ve got going” in the city. A resident suggested council look into projects that will bring revenue into the city, and suggested a “solar energy farm” on vacant land the city owns.
Another citizen said when developers or commercial projects are looking for sites, North Branch not having a local police presence will be viewed as a detriment and hurt the city’s desireability. Council takes input during open forum and doesn’t respond to specific issues directly. Mayor Ron Lindquist thanked everybody for their comments and added no new information. In other business council accepted the 2012 audit done by CliftonLarsonAllen. Highlights include the city’s carryover into 2013 being described as acceptable, but not exemplary. Going into this year the city was “in the bullseye” but not in the center of the target, was the way CliftonLarsonAllen partner Doug Host presented it. Host said this was the firm’s first time auditing North Branch and he spoke highly of the financial records-keeping and city staff preparedness and cooperation.
The liquor store is experiencing “consistent” financial performance and in 2012 transferred $128,000 into the general fund. Gross profit percentages are better than Minnesota muni averages. Mayor Lindquist asked for net profit detail and Host said he can provide that to staff. The balancing act between revenues and expenses has seen the city cut general fund expenditures from $3.6 million in 2009, to a little over $3.1 million in 2012. The city has to watch its sewer fund operations, which showed a negative cash flow of $261,594. The stormwater fund also saw its greatest net loss before transfers in four years, the audit reported. Host said many cities are not keeping up with infrastructure financials during this lean economic growth period, but it isn’t wise. The only other revenue option is selling bonding. Council took proposals from law firms to act as city attorney and voted unanimously to hire Rupp Anderson Squires, effective July 1.
Council member Theresa Furman abstained saying she has a personal relationship with one of the firms interviewed. An ordinance allowing keeping chickens and ducks was adopted, with Council member Trent Jensen the only no vote. Council will get a report at the end of the first year of this being effective to review how this is working and if there are complaints resulting. Conditions include no “free range” on parcels of less than 10 acres, and chicken coop location restrictions. Please check with city hall for details.