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Cottage Grove parks, public safety departments seek minor budget increases

As the city of Cottage Grove continues to map out its budgets for 2014 and 2015, a plan that proposes raising general fund spending to $14.14 million next year, the City Council last week heard from the parks and recreation and public safety departments.

Both departments are proposing budget increases in general spending for the replacement and upgrade of equipment and addition of employees.

Parks and Recreation Director Zac Dockter detailed the proposed $1.82 million budget for fiscal year 2014, which includes minor increases in personal services for forestry, park maintenance and recreation programming.

"There aren't a lot of significant changes with our budget," Dockter said.

Now three years into the 12-year program to combat the Emerald Ash Borer tree infestation, which accounts for $162,000 of the department budget, Dockter told the council that while the invasive beetle has not been found in Washington County, the funds budgeted for the program are still necessary for future treatment regimens.

"Treating for (Emerald Ash Borer) is just like any road maintenance. You pay now or you pay later," he said. "But you run the risk of paying a whole lot later if you don't address it now."

To date, the department has treated nearly 2,000 of the city's boulevard ash trees with insecticide and Dockter reported an increase in residents interested in the voluntary removal program, which replaces boulevard ash trees with another tree species. As the program continues, Dockter said the plan is to remove roughly 100 trees this fall and upward of 400 next year.

"We don't have the money for the injection next year so it becomes our big removal year," he said. "But you won't see a bunch of trees just mowed down in neighborhoods. It will be spread out."

Council member Derrick Lehrke asked if the city should be in the tree business and only remove the trees when and if they become sick. However, a policy decision made by the city says the city is responsible for trees on the boulevard.

"The goal by 2019 is to have the only the treated ash trees standing," Dockter said.

The bulk of the budget is $1.14 million for park maintenance, which includes capital outlay for a water filtration system at the Lamar Park building, mulch for several planter beds and replacement of three truck trailers that have surpassed their life expectancy.

"There is a lot of rusting and according to the mechanic they are beyond repair," Dockter said. "They are due for replacement in some shape or form."

Other Parks and Recreation Department expenses include $120,000 in capital outlay in 2014 for ice arena equipment replacement. Dockter is seeking $102,000 for future replacement of the chiller and $18,000 for replacements of a man lift, air conditioning unit and water softener.

Public safety and EMS expenses

The public safety department also presented its preliminary budget, which proposes a $6.85 million budget for 2014, a slight increase from previous years.

Attributing for nearly all of the expenses is a $5.57 million budget for police, which includes salary and an accelerated Taser replacement program. Projected for 2015 is the replacement of squad cars and the purchase of an additional police vehicle.

"The Tasers have paid for themselves more than once over," said police Capt. Greg Rinzel. "Like we did with the handguns, we want to put them on a replacement schedule. Instead of getting a large sum of money now we can get a small sum of money and constantly be buying new ones to stay updated."

Rinzel said the department has 22 Tasers, some of which are broken and sent for repairs often. With a life expectancy of four years, Rinzel said the department anticipates buying seven new Tasers a year.

The EMS department is proposing a $78,220 2014 budget, which includes a $32,600 upgrade for battery backup capability for five civil defense sirens within Cottage Grove. Fire Chief Rick Redenius said only six of the 11 sirens have backup batteries.

"If we were to lose power during a storm like we did recently, those sirens wouldn't activate," he said. "We're looking to upgrade the system so that if we did lose power, those backups would still activate the siren."

With new development proposed near Keats Avenue and 85th Street, the council did entertain the idea of installing a new siren to cover more ground. However, Redenius said while it would be prudent to install another one in the future, he said the city is well covered.

The city's fire department is proposing a $1.2 million budget for 2014, with the bulk of expenses allotted for replacing five sets of bunker gear and boots, contracted fire hose testing, the purchase of a hydraulic pump for a truck that was purchased in 2012 and the replacement of fire hose nozzles. Also budgeted is $138,000 for a new ambulance.

An increase in personal services from $470,000 to $535,000 includes the addition of two full-time firefighter/paramedics beginning in July 2014.

Under the current proposal, a boost in revenue will come from a 4 percent increase in ambulance rates in 2014 and a 5 percent increase in 2015.

Each Wednesday during August, council members and city staff will meet in open workshops to discuss various city department budget proposals.

The next budget meeting will be Aug. 14, immediately following the regular City Council meeting.

The council plans to approve the preliminary 2014-2015 budget and tax levy during its Sept. 4 meeting.