By Terry Lehrke, News Editor
Instead of offering budget numbers during a special work session Monday, City Administrator Dan Vogt gave the Little Falls City Council a concept to consider first.
Because several employees in the Public Works Department plan to retire in the near future, Little Falls has an opportunity to restructure its staff.
While considering a restructure, the Council was also asked to consider filling the vacant zoning official position with a contracted service.
When the city had a building official, he took care of the zoning issues. When the city’s building official left a few years ago, the city contracted with professional David Barsody for those services.
Zoning issues are currently being handled by another employee in the Public Works Department. With the restructure, the city would contract with a professional zoning official, as it does with the building official.
The proposal also includes combining the street supervisor and parks, grounds, maintenance supervisor into one position and adding a street/park labor position.
A water distribution/engineer technician position, also currently vacant, would be filled as well. Vogt noted that although the position has been vacant, funds for the position have been included in the budget each year it has been vacant.
Council Member Greg Zylka asked that the $100,000 – $125,000 increase needed in the restructuring be well-defined.
“When you say that, the number sounds large — but if you look at the vacant positions and that’s what you have to fill and should be filled, that cuts it in half — we want to know what the impact is.”
Zylka said when the word “restructuring” is used, most people think of it as a way to save money. “But we’re filling (vacant) positions that haven’t been filled,” he said.
Council Member Jeremy Hanfler asked whether the zoning person would be full time. Vogt, who works on a contract half-time with the city, said the zoning official probably wouldn’t work as many hours as he did.
Public Works Supervisor Jerry Lochner pointed out that over the years building permits and zoning issues have been done on the side. In the 1970s and 1980s, he said, the city did have an employee that worked on zoning issues.
“We need to update our zoning book,” said Lochner. He said a few issues the Planning Commission dealt with having to do with variance requests, “should never have had to happen.”
“When you get a professional who knows the zones, who has the schooling and education, that’s what we need to bring ourselves up to speed,” said Lochner “We haven’t had the zoning background or experience that we need. I don’t think you have a choice there.”
He said while some city staff knows how to deal with basic questions, “We need to be able to turn to a zoning official or some expert, who can tell whether it’s being done correctly,” said Lochner.
Addressing the need for another laborer in the streets department, Lochner said, “We have many more miles of roadways to maintain with annexation, sewers to clean, work on our downtown area with the street lights. We need a person right now, an employee that works with all the department. It would be much more efficient.”
Finance Officer Lori Kasella told the Council that city staff once numbered near 60.
“Years ago, we had 57 – 58 employees. Through the years we narrowed that down and up until the last five years we had 47 – 48 employees,” she said. “Right now, we’re down to 43 — and because of people that have left and gone through the musical chairs and all that kind of stuff, we’ve been down an employee for almost two years. We’re talking about the one vacant position we need to fill and also looking at a person and a half, still not bringing us anywhere close to the number of employees we used to have.”
Lochner said the current staff is very efficient, but with added duties with the zoning issues and new water meters coming into the city, and being short an employee, some of the necessary work isn’t getting done.
Vogt said the proposed restructuring wasn’t final, but a concept at this point. The need to fill the vacant water distribution/engineering technician position is immediate, as the city moves to a new water meter reading system, he said.