Lynne Hermansen
The City of Gardner approved a public hearing for September 6 at 7p.m. to discuss their intent to exceed the revenue neutral rate.
Matt Wolff, finance director, said at the July 5 City Council meeting the city will have a revenue neutral rate of 18.854 mills which is a little more than the 17.445 mill rate.
However, he said, the 18.854 mill rate is a 1 mill decrease from last year’s 19.854 mill.
The RNR was first presented by Wolff at the June 21 council meeting as part of the 2023-2024 budget policy where he asked for direction on how to proceed.
He said the General Fund balance would have a $900,000 surplus at the end of the year and sales tax was strong and healthy at $175,000 in revenue.
Wolff said operations had savings due to 12.5 vacant city positions. They were having a hard time with increased competition from other municipalities and inflation that it made it difficult to attract qualified candidates.
Rehabbing three city parks, the 167th Street development project $1 million preliminary design from Center to Moonlight and the street rehab of Kill Creek to Waverly Road  for $700,000 will all play a role.
“There has been an acceleration of improvements due to planned development that wasn’t in the original five year comprehensive plan,” Wolff said. “The presentation focuses on the General Fund because it is the main operating fund that can be adjusted.”
Steve Shute, council vice president, said they would continue to have upward pressure and didn’t see the point of accelerating.
“I don’t think merit and cost of living are going to cut it,” he said. “I would like to look at the increasing cost of living possibility.”
Erik VanPotter, council member, said he agreed with Shute.
“I’m worried about getting used to what we are collecting,” he said. “I think we could be developing a precarious situation. We should be reducing stress on residents and employees, but I don’t know if I have much guidance and suggestions as much as questions.”
Shute said they could do the $1 million if it didn’t have the city losing people.
“Flat will make it worse,” he said. “We have to thread that needle. We can’t afford to lose more positions. We are already short staffed as it is.”
Todd Winters, mayor, said it gets more expensive when they are losing employees.
Shute said the cost of living was going up too fast.
VanPotter said most companies were constricted and only giving modest raises.
“We are in uncharted territory and it mirrors the 1970s,” he said.
Kacy Deaton, council member, said it was a lot.
“I don’t hate the one mill reduction scenario, but I want to make sure we have enough flexibility,” she said. “Every year we will have to relook at this.”
Mark Baldwin, council president, said 30 percent should always be the goal and 40 percent gives them extra cushion.
“We can adjust,” he said. “We had a very good last year. Property owners have been hit though and we need to give back.”
Baldwin said he would like to see the numbers in a year and reevaluate.
Winters said one million would give them enough cushion still.
An old business item for the purchase of a new drone for the Gardner Police Department was approved.
The item had been pulled from the June 21 consent agenda for discussion.
Van Potter requested they look into using an American company because he would rather keep the money local.
The Gardner Police Department began the drone program April 2019 and have flown 28 missions to locate lost juveniles, suicidal subjects and people fleeing from law enforcement.
The purchase of the DJI Matrice 300 RTK drone and additional accessories including a Zenmuse camera system from Unmanned Vehicle Technologies will cost $28,848 from The Law Enforcement Trust Fund of $57,212.65.
Jacob Hayes, Police Captain, said the DJI would save a life and thanked the council for approving.
Van Potter said the American made tech wasn’t as close to the DJI and was a necessity.
Baldwin said American made was a good sentiment to keep in mind but the DJI was a better product.

Council Updates
Kacy Deaton, council member, proposed a military banner program for the City. The program would be to display active and or veteran military members on banners on Main Street’s city poles.
“It helps keep our small town charm,” she said. “It honors our citizens.”
Deaton said it would be very low cost to the city. Customers would submit a name to the company and pay for it, and the city would hang up the banner.
Baldwin said his hometown participates in a similar program and he was all for it.
“It’s always been a nice thing,” he said.
Deaton said they could set parameters for length of time the banners hang and times of years.
Tory Roberts, council member, said she would suggest partnering with the American Legion.
Van Potter said he saw the program as advantageous around military holidays for six weeks at a time.
Deaton said 56 Highway was ideal because it receives the most traffic.
Baldwin said he suggested starting with 56 Highway from Moonlight to Center Street and then looking to expand down Center Street towards Veterans Park.