The Crookston City Council members voted Monday night during their Special Ways & Means Committee meeting to partially fund the $250,000 loan request from Epitome Energy. During their last meeting on August 12, Councilman Jake Fee suggested that the City of Crookston fund a portion of the loan with CHEDA funding the rest.
Fee had suggested that $75,000 that be used from the Municipal Land and Buildings fund and $75,000 from the Valley Technology Park funds. “CHEDA has done a really wonderful job getting us where we are,” said Fee. It’s important that we show the City is in full support of this project happening and that we’re working side-by-side with CHEDA.” The rent from the Colburn property that Epitome Energy would build upon currently goes into the Municipal Land and Buildings fund to pay back the city for the infrastructure that was put in after acquiring the property. City of Crookston Finance Director Angel Weasner said the infrastructure that was put in cost around $300,000-400,000. Councilman Dale Stainbrook asked what the current fund balance was, which Weasner said was approximately $1.2 million.
All members of the council voted in favor of Fee’s motion to put up $75,000 from each fund. The CHEDA Advisory Committee for Epitome Energy recommended they fund the loan request at $250,000. The CHEDA Board will now need to consider whether to fund the remaining $100,000 in the request following the City Council’s vote.
Three outdoor warning sirens that are no longer being used by the city were also declared as surplus. The committee then reviewed seven proposed department budgets for 2020.
POLICE DEPARTMENT BUDGET
The proposed Police Department budget totaled $2,155,285, an increase of $135,672 over the current year. Of that increase, $97,280 is tied to salaries and benefits including the Police Department’s share ($8,350) a proposed new custodial position shared among various departments.
Also included is a bodycam system for all the department. Fee asked whether Crookston was one of the last cities of its size that doesn’t have body cameras. “We are probably one of the few departments in the state of our size that don’t have body cameras,” said Biermaier. “Some have elected not to. The majority I believe have gone with body cameras. I don’t have any good hard data to back that up right now. We’re looking at possibly purchasing body cameras and all the components that go with it to make this work. More than likely we will purchase the body cameras that come from the same company as our in-car system, called WatchGuard.”
Biermaier said because the city already uses WatchGuard they’d be set up to go with their bodycam system very quickly. “We’re kind of set up and ready to go already,” said Biermaier. “So, if we get these cameras, there wouldn’t be a lot of downtime to setting up a system. It’s not this simple, but kind of plug and play, and we’d be able to get going with it. It’s something we need to look at and there are a whole lot of steps involved before we would be able to do that.”
Councilman Tom Vedbraaten asked if the bodycams would be on all the time and Biermaier said they haven’t considered policies for bodycam usage at this time but that there is a lot of activity throughout a shift that wouldn’t require the bodycam.
Also included in the budget was $2,000 for equipping a new officer should the city have a hire, the replacement of three bulletproof vests which are about $1,200 each, and a stationary speed sign for $5,700. A Chevy Tahoe is also on the budget to replace a current squad car. Fee said he was trying to figure out what could be cut from budgets and said that he didn’t want to cut anything safety-related but did ask if the new speed sign was something Biermaier could see being cut. Biermaier said he’d added that to the budget as a result of hearing suggestions for a sign from various sources including council discussions but added that it’s up to the council to decide.
Biermaier was also asked about the increase in the department’s contractual line item. Biermaier said that the courts often require recordings be transcribed for trial and while the admin staff handles the majority of that, sometimes they need to send it out for additional assistance including some translation. “What’s kind of happened here is the courts are requesting and requiring not just an audio recording, but they want the audio recording transcribed,” said Biermaier. “Sometimes we’ll be notified that we have a jury trial two or three weeks out and our office staff does a good job staying on top of all of that. But sometimes cases go through a plea deal and it bumps everybody up so we’ll get notified that we have a trial in three days. We don’t have the time and the staff now to get that done. So, what we’ve had to do is basically contract on a per-minute basis to get these recordings transcribed.”
Councilman Bobby Baird also asked if the cars are filled up at various stations which Biermaier said they are sometimes but many times the squad cars are filled around 3:00 a.m. when only Ampride is open. Both Baird and Vedbraaten said an effort should be made to spread it around with Vedbraaten adding he notices Ampride is usually the most expensive. Mayor Guy Martin also asked Biermaier about the ongoing remodel at the department which Biermaier said had gotten a lot of good updates, but that there were some additional changes for security they’d like to make. “There are some things that change with the times,” said Biermaier. “One of the things is our security within the building. What we’d like to do is turn one office into an initial interview room for people who come in to be interviewed or who we have to meet with for registration purposes. Right now when they come through the third door into our building they are into our entire building. Safety standards coming down from the feds and data practice standards say we have to limit that now. So, we’re looking at maybe putting in a door where there isn’t one right now and making an office close to the front lobby area a secure room. We can have those people come into that first room right there and they don’t get access to anywhere else in the building.”
FIRE DEPARTMENT BUDGET
The proposed Fire Department Budget is $959,945, an increase of $111,145. The majority of that increase is for capital improvements. A large part of that, $75,000, is the replacement of the fire department and the firefighter’s associations self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). Together the full replacement is expected to cost $220,000 with a portion paid from the budget, a portion from the fire department’s reserves and the rest from the firefighter’s association.
There is a FEMA grant that the Fire Department and Firefighter’s Association will apply for said Froeber. Fee asked if the $75,000 was assuming they didn’t get the grant and Froeber said yes, that the FEMA grant could pay up to 90% of the $220,000 with the hopes that some smaller grants could cover the rest. “SCBA is the air packs that the firefighter’s need to wear when they are in any kind of hazardous atmosphere,” said Froeber. “In that, we need to replace our packs and our masks. We will be writing a FEMA grant which we are hoping will cover 90 percent of this SBCA replacement. If it does that would be extremely helpful in replacing these very important pieces of equipment for our firefighters to keep them safe.”
Also included is the replacement of firefighter gear and money to a reserve account for replacing fire trucks said Froeber. “Every year we have to replace some turn out gear for our firefighters and it’s very expensive,” said Froeber. “I put in my capital improvements $7,300 a year and that usually buys three sets of gear for our firefighters. That stuff has about a 10-year shelf live. That’s just for the jacket and pants. I also have a few dollars set aside to replace helmets, gloves, and boots. As everybody knows the turn out gear is a very important part of their safety equipment. We also put away money annually into a reserve account for our fire apparatus, fire trucks, ladder trucks so we don’t have to take such a big hit when we have to buy a new piece of apparatus. We usually have a 25-year replacement schedule on our fire trucks but then we also have our staff vehicles, our pickups, that we replace.”
The next fire truck is scheduled to be a rescue truck co-purchased with the firefighter’s association in 2025. Froeber said he’s also like to purchase a drone to assist with rescues, police searches, and would be used by other departments as needed. “We’re looking for just a basic drone,” said Froeber. “I put $4,000 which would allow us to fly over any remote areas and helps us with search and rescue. We can use it in the winter to fly over rivers looking for ice jams. We can use it to assist other departments in our city like the police when searching for lost [person] or for a fugitive. Our building department could use it for inspections on roofs or other places where a ladder might not be safe.”
A used watercraft better able to traverse the low water level in the Red Lake River is also included on the budget said Frober. “What we’re looking for is like a two-person watercraft or jetski like apparatus,” said Froeber. “With our river being so low and the rock rapids placed into our channels a standard outboard can’t be maneuvered into all locations on the river. Our rivers have been used so much more the last several years with kayakers or canoers. We’ve been having to go search or try rescuing them and with a standard boat it’s just not feasible.”
EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT BUDGET
The proposed Emergency Management budget for 2020 is $19,600, an increase of $700. Froeber explained that a couple of firefighters have expressed interest in becoming certified emergency managers. For that, he increased the travel $500 to attend certification courses. He also increased to subscriptions and fees by $200 as once certified their would-be annual dues and subscriptions needed for those certified.
VALLEY TECHNOLOGY PARK
The proposed 2020 budget for the Valley Technology Park (VTP) is $104,725, a decrease of $17,825. A large portion of that decrease is associated with the one-time budgeting in 2019 for the creation of the incubation program. Utilities received a significant bump from $24,150 in 2019 to a proposed $33,460 given the recent history with actual utility expenses being $24,425 in 2017, $30,665 in 2018 and the year to date utilities in 2019 being $19,510. Crookston Housing and Economic Development Authority Executive Director Craig Hoiseth said a large portion of that is tied to the growth of Vertical Malt. Hoiseth also added that plans are Vertical Malt will be leaving the VTP for a new malt house by the end of 2020. “We’ve been very happy with Vertical Malt in the back of the VTP for the last three years,” said Hoiseth. “They’ve continued to increase their square footage and of course their electrical consumption needs continue to increase. We’ve been continuing to pay a lot of those fees for them allowing them some better cash flow for their business to develop and get their footing underneath themselves. Our utility bill is going up as that company continues to grow which is a good thing.”
The building itself is more than 20 years old, which Hoiseth said is why there is $25,000 for building improvements in the budget. “The building is now over 20 years old,” said Hoiseth. “It’s had a lot of foot traffic over the years with various tenants that have come and went. We need to replace some carpets and do some things with LED lighting, doors, roof work, and all those things that as buildings age you need to keep them maintained.”
Hoiseth also said he had removed a capital expense for an expansion on the north of VTP that would include a loading dock, saying he didn’t think this was a good year for it budget-wise. “Anytime we’ve had tenants in those north bays there has been a cry for a little more square footage and a loading dock or two that allows them to bring a product in and move their product out,” said Hoiseth. “We recognize that is going to be a sizeable chunk of money, we were budgeting $100,000. Looking at the overall budget for the city this year figured that might be a tough sell. And maybe just wanted to give the other departments in the city a little more leeway in their headroom.”
The proposed 2020 budget for the Crookston Library is $285,247, a decrease of $15,360. That includes $5,478 less in salaries and benefits. It also includes a decrease of $10,000 in capital improvements and $4,000 less in utilities. The Lake Agassiz Regional Library share of operating expenses saw an increase of $4,370 in their annual request explains Weasner. “LARL submits their budget to me every year along with what they request as the city’s portion of their operating budget,” said Weasner. “The increase was up to $227,000 for the LARL portion of the library budget. Then we had a decrease in capital expenditures of $10,000 as we look to repair the sidewalk water pooling issue.”
The proposed 2020 budget for the Crookston Airport is $410,475, an increase of $30,721. Included is a $55,000 for buildings and structures including $10,000 for a fund for a garage on the airport manager’s house that’s included in the contract, $5,000 for crack sealing, $10,000 for hangar door replacement, and $30,000 for runway end lights.
Fee asked how much had been put away for the garage already and Weasner said none, as it’s something that’s been cut in the past. Baird asked if the city did the crack sealing and Weasner said no and explained it was due to the strict Federal Aviation Administration regulations regarding the runway surface. They contract someone with experience with those strict regulations.
Baird also asked where the jet fuel was or if it was included in the line item for gasoline and oil. Weasner explained jet fuel has its own separate account with Miller Aviation Services. “The gasoline and oil are actually for the maintenance vehicles at the airport,” said Weaner. So, the snowplow, plow truck, any navigation, mowing, all the equipment. We sell jet fuel through Miller Aviation in a separate account not included in that.”
Fee also asked why the mowing was $16,000 and the Baird asked why there was a snow removal contract. Weasner explained that the city crews don’t mow the airport, a seasonal employee is hired for about twelve weeks while the rest of the mowing and all the snow removal is contracted through Miller Aviation Services. “During the summer we have a seasonal employee that does all the mowing,” said Weasner. “That only lasts for 67 days, about 12 weeks. So, the rest of the time it is handled by Miller Aviation. Miller Aviation Services also does the snow removal for us at the airport.”
The proposed 2020 Elections budget is $31,290, an increase of $10,468 over 2018. That equates to one extra election which is the result of the presidential primary in March says Weasner. “I believe March 3rd of 2020 there will be a presidential primary,” said Weasner. “So, all polling locations need to be open for every Ward so all voters can participate in the presidential primary if they so choose. All the prices that would go with having a third election have been included.”
Weasner also told the committee she has been looking at other locations for the wards to vote at, with the possibility of using one location for all wards in the future. “As always we look for ways of making everything more convenient for everybody,” said Weasner. “There is always the possibility that locations need to change so we’re looking at the possibility of having all wards vote at one location in future years.”
Weasner did add that even by moving to one location the cost savings could be minimal as it would still require the same number of election officials and equipment from the county.