Corbin H. Crable
[email protected]

Gardner City Council members will mull a lower mill increase for 2011 but would still have to face yet another increase for 2012.

Council members, at a July 26 special work session, discussed the possibility of lowering the proposed mill increase from 6.5 to 4.5. However, with a 6.5 increase, city staff still predict a 2-mill increase in 2012; similarly, with a 4.5 mill increase for next year, the expected increase for 2012 would rise to 3 mills.

In both scenarios, the city would then project mill rate decreases in 2014 and 2017 to help offset the increases for 2011 and 2012.

In addition to both possibilities, City Administrator Stewart Fairburn said he would bring before the council a budget that includes the possibility of a 5.5 mill increase.

Gardner residents will have the chance to sound off on these budget options at a public hearing to take place Aug. 2. The council then will vote on the 2011 budget on Aug. 16. The finalized budget must be submitted to the state by the end of August.

Gardner Mayor Dave Drovetta warned the council that if it decided to approve a 4.5 mill increase, it would only further delay the $15 to $18 million in capital improvement projects the city has designated as “necessary,” and said that voting for a lower mill increase only would “delay the inevitable.”
“Any type of recovery we would see would be a slow, gradual improvement,” he said.

Council President Todd Winters and council members Kristy Harrison, Dan Newburg and Brian Broxterman  spoke in favor of the 4.5 mill increase after discussing further cuts the city could make, including reducing payments to the Gardner Cemetery from $10,000 to $7,500; halving a one-time payment of $50,000 in merit payments for city employees to $24,000 (or a maximum of $300 per year, per employee); reducing funds used in planning training to $5,500; and removing $12,000 to fund a primary election.

“We’ll be lucky to get three candidates (for a primary election early next year),” Fairburn said.

While Winters said he was in favor of a lower mill rate increase, Drovetta said he believes Gardner residents likely will not even feel the effects of a 6.5 mill increase versus a 4.5 increase.

“It’s not going to be much more painful in the grand scheme of things,” he said. “We have a very conservative budget, even with a 6.5 mill increase.”
Harrison said she disagreed with Drovetta’s opinion that residents would not feel an additional burden by a higher mill rate increase.

“There has to be a realization that to a segment of the population, this is a big deal,” she said. “This will be very real to a lot of people. An extra $10 or $15 – that could be a prescription to some people.”

Newburg said he agreed.

“Numerically, it’s a small number, but for a lot of people, for the single mom or single dad, that’s not a small number,” he said. “That’s what I’m wrestling with.”

Newburg also spoke out against cuts to the Gardner Cemetery’s funding from the city.

“The history of Gardner is out there,” he said. “These people gave their lives for their community.”

Harrison said she agreed with Newburg, adding that regardless of how many families take advantage of being able to bury their loved ones at the cemetery, the location still draws a crowd for certain memorial services.
Drovetta again reminded council members that city staff have already made numerous trims to their budgets, and that although such conversations are difficult, they are necessary.

“When (the budget) comes to us, there has been much that has been moved already by the time we see it,” he said. “We don’t have extravagancies that aren’t seen elsewhere. I know that’s not in line with the popular mood these days, but that’s the reality.”

The council will next meet for its regular meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 2 at City Hall, 120 E. Main St., at which time a public hearing on the 2011 budget will take place. All Gardner residents are invited to attend.