By Bob Zientara

Barron City Council members sharpened their budget pencils in both open and closed sessions Tuesday night, Oct. 29, 2019, in an effort to meet the goal of a 2020 spending plan that will mean no higher than a two percent increase for local property taxpayers.

According to Liz Jacobson, city administrator, “we need to meet a $2,494,457 budget to meet maintain that tax increase.”

The actual dollar figure for the new city tax levy has yet to be worked out, she added.

The council spent about an hour in open session working on the capital improvement budget, looking for ways to drop spending on big-ticket items, maintenance projects, and supplies.

So far, the biggest such item in the budget is a new play structure at Anderson Park. Of the total $350,000 price tag, about $225,000 will come from fundraising through the Barron Kiwanis Club. Including a $10,000 expenditure for parking and an additional $14,800 for a rider lawnmower, the city’s share of the structure will be about $125,000.

“We need the city’s commitment to make this happen,” said council member Maureen Tollman, who has helped lead the effort to raise funds for the play structure.

Council members learned the existing play structure at Anderson Park will be moved to Becker park on the city’s east side.

Another major acquisition is likely to be left out of the 220 budget – a new “rescue truck” for the Barron-Maple Grove Fire Department.

Purchased in 2013, the 1991-vintage Frontline Spartan vehicle can carry up to six firefighters wearing “self-contained breathing apparatus” inside the cabin.

It is also equipped with a “cascade system” that allows allow firefighters to re-fill 25 to 30 oxygen bottles on the scene of a fire call.

But mechanical issues sidelined the truck a year ago.

Council member Rod Nordby asked if the truck was still in operation. Paul Solie, council member, said it was.

“(Firefighters) worked on the front end, machined some parts, and got it up and running,” he said.

A new vehicle is likely to cost well into six figures, but Jacobson said the towns of Maple Grove and Barron have decided not to include the vehicle in their 2020 budgets.

Part of the reason is the financial effects of the July 19 storm, which devastated the Barron area – particularly the town of Maple Grove, council members were told.

Area local governments spent heavily out of their own budgets, and they may have to wait a long time for federal funds to reimburse them, council members learned.

City insurance may be one possible bright spot in recovering the cost of storm cleanup, Jacobson told the council.

“We have coverage of up to $1,000 per tree,” she said. “(City) crews are doing a GPS location for every tree that went down. We will then work it out through FEMA channels.” After negotiations between the insurance company and FEMA take place, “we can make the assumption some (storm damage) costs will be covered by insurance,” Jacobson added.

Other line item adjustments in the capital improvement budget:

• An installment plan may be used to acquire an as-yet unspecified piece of downtown Barron property.

• The city expects to reduce expenditures for new “Welcome to Barron” signs to $30,000 in public funds, with further assistance from room taxes. There are two signs, but only one is likely to be replaced, the one on the east side of the city which was felled by high winds on July 19.

• A green on the Rolling Oaks Golf Course will be rebuilt, but the city expects to pay no more than $20,000 for the project.

• The city expects to spend an estimated $26,000 for new fire department clothing and equipment.

• The council will continue to study what it spends on city-funded spring and fall cleanup projects. The budget tentatively calls for two programs next year, but for no more than $12,000. Council members discussed whether to hold only a single project per year.

By limiting the tax increase to no higher than two percent, the city can earn a bonus from the state, Jacobson noted.

“If we meet the state’s ‘spending restraint’ benchmark, we can get a payment of $40,000,” she said.

She said the goal was to “keep the levy increase reasonable, at a level that is appropriate for the taxpayers.”

Tentative plans are to approve a proposed city budget at the council’s next regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 12, and to hold a state-required city budget hearing on Thursday, Nov. 21.

After the open session, the council adjourned to closed session to continue discussing employee wage and benefit adjustments.