W’bago fire squad officers get raise

WINNEBAGO – It came down to a split vote Tuesday but Winnebago City Council approved giving the fire department officers raises totaling nearly $2,000.

City Administrator Chris Ziegler presented a revised officer list and new salary structure compiled by Fire Chief Jesse Haugh. The list proposed to eliminate the safety officer position, and combine the training officer with the first captain and chief positions. Ziegler noted there had been no pay raise for officers since at least 2005.

“The new proposed structure would be a net increase in salaries of $1,800 annually, but would be offset by equal decreases in other budget items, such as training or repairs,” Ziegler said. “Chief Haugh cited increased time demands and increased regulatory burdens from state agencies as the main reasons for the increases for chief, assistant chief and first captain.”

The list proposed to raise the chief’s current $900 pay to $2,000; assistant chief from $250 to $1,000; first captain from $200 to $600; second captain from $200 to $300. Total of current salaries is $2,400; the proposed total is $4,200.

“I have a huge problem with the percentages. They’re obscene,” said Councilwoman Jean Anderson.

She suggested taking the proposed amount and distributing it as a bonus for a job well done at the end of the year.

“I realize they are taking on additional duties, but the percentage of raises are ‘Wow,'” she said.

“I agree with Jean,” said Councilman Rick Johnson. “I don’t mind changing the salaries. I do mind changing them to that extent.”

“The city should start increasing on a yearly basis, so it’s not such a shock to the system,” Anderson added.

“The point Jesse made to me is all the hours he’s putting in and not recording,” Ziegler said. “We’ve had no problem recruiting in the past, but as burdens add up, it could happen.”

“It’s a volunteer fire department and we find our numbers dwindling,” said Councilman Scott Robertson, adding that firefighters do a good job and the city is lucky to have them. “I’m behind [the raise] 100 percent.”

“You don’t believe this will open a can of worms [with other departments]?” Johnson asked Robertson.

“It’s gonna go crazy, in my opinion,” Anderson added.

“I disagree,” Robertson said.

He said the amount of money involved is only $1,800, not thousands and thousands of dollars.

“I’m talking about the perception to the community,” Anderson countered. “We’re supposed to be representing them.”

“These guys do a lot of work. I don’t want to lose them,” said Mayor Jeremiah Schutt.

“I’m looking past the percentage. We’re always concerned with perception, but we need to be able to act,” said Councilwoman Stacy Huntington-Scofield. “I’m in support of this raise.”

When the vote was taken, Huntington-Scofield and Robertson voted in favor of the raise; Johnson and Anderson voted against, making Schutt the tie-breaker.

“This is a tough one,” he said. “I understand both points of view.”

In the end, he voted yes, meaning the raises were approved.

On another topic, the council voted to start improving the former trailer park property and turn it into a campground.

Ziegler presented a plan to develop eight sites with water, sewer and electrical hookups, but no showers. So the campground would be available only to RVs with showers and restroom facilities that meet Minnesota Department of Health requirements.

The council approved a quote of $6,350 from Ron’s Plumbing and Electrical for the electrical work; the purchase of five picnic tables for $3,000; and authorized $5,000 to be used at Ziegler’s discretion for miscellaneous expenses.

In other business, the council heard auditor Kyle Meyers of Abdo, Eick and Meyers go over the annual financial report.

“I think it was all good,” Ziegler said after the meeting.

The city’s fund balance increased by $174,936 in 2012.

“That [means] net revenues were greater than expenditures so it added $174,000 to our reserves,” he said. “The biggest part was we got $82,000 more from [state aid] than what we had budgeted.”

He credited former City Administrator Austin Bleess’ budget planning.

In other action, the council approved:

o Hiring Judy Staloch as administrative and accounting assistant.

o Raises for librarian Heidi Schutt and Police Chief Bob Toland.

o A street project involving three blocks of milling and overlay at an estimated cost of $59,000. The project includes two blocks of Cleveland Avenue West, from Sixth to Eighth streets; and one block of Second Avenue SW, between First and Second streets.