By Amy Cunningham
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During the Thursday evening work session the Gardner City Council moved on five separate occasions to go to executive session; each time one member voiced concerns about the subject matter the group would cover.
“I object to executive session. The discussion of overall salary structure is not an issue for executive session and should be discussed in the open session. It’s something that can be gotten as part of the Kansas Open Records Act and is not something that should be secret,” Fotovitch stated.
The council voted each time, four to one, in favor of retreating behind closed doors (to council chambers); Fotovitch, despite his objections, joined the group for every session. Following over three and-a-half hours of executive session, the group re-convened for regular work session.
On the table were two topics; a three percent pay increase across the board for city employees and the addition of three officers to join the police force in 2012.
Council addressed police chief Kenny Francis’ request for the additional officers a cost of $198,000.  Several members of the council grappled with the idea of expanding the force while maintaining the city’s current mill levy rate. Council Member Chris Morrow asked Francis if he could get by with one additional officer in 2012.
Francis reported that his department is already working under a deficit. He said that, when a previous council agreed to split-up the Public Safety department into police and fire squads, his department had two positions to be filled.
“The city asked us to remain open, and then when the 2011 budget came out (funds weren’t there),” Francis stated. He warned the council about pushing off the additional officers until it became a critical issue.
“I’m a pretty conservative guy myself, I don’t much care for a mill levy increase, but in 2013 you might need four or five officers (if you push it off),” Francis cautioned.
Added mayor David Drovetta, “The situation we’re in is exactly that, two officers were left open in 2008, we held those positions open…we’re delaying…we need to start at doing something. The longer we wait it’ll be harder to adjust.”
Interim city administrator Melissa Mundt advised the group that, while there is money to pay for additional officers in 2012, funding by 2014 would not cover that expense.
“You’re encumbering a future council with a fund balance,” Mundt reminded the group. She advised planning for those funds in future budgets in order for the city to retain a positive rating with Moody’s; the city needs to have a 15% minimum fund balance to satisfy the credit rating service.
The council directed Mundt and finance director Laura Gourley to comb through the budget and find funding for the officers by making cuts in other areas.
Fotovitch remanded Mundt for failing to include the additional officers in the 2012 budget.
“I want to know why this was not in the budget to begin with when we agreed to a no mill levy increase and I think that you’re reneging on that,” Fotovitch complained.
Funding for the 3 percent pay increase for city employees remains in the budget.
The council expects to vote on a final budget by August 15.