Laurel City Council approves budget, Mayor not taking pay raise

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Compiled By Torrey Anderson
Thursday, September 22, 2022

In a series of meetings held in late August and early September, members of the Laurel City Council approved the city budget for 2022/2023. The process was not without its challenges, as the council faced a wide variance between revenues and expenditures. The city brought in $4,003,696 in revenue last year, but expenditures came in at $4,955,979, necessitating a deep re-working of the city budget from all departments. In the council meetings, which are live-streamed every Tuesday, Laurel’s Mayor Dave Waggoner and City Council members took on the challenge with a sense of concern for keeping necessary services running, even in the face of the considerable task ahead of them.

Many of the overages were based on previous year data and a lot of those items were easily eliminated. For example, the Mayor was budgeted $30,000 a year to hire an executive assistant. Waggoner elected instead to not fill that position, saving the city money in those wages as well as the expense associated with providing medical benefits for that employee. Those budgeted funds remained as a deficit until they were removed from the city budget in the meetings this fall. Additionally, Mayor Waggoner decided to not take a pay raise this year, saving the city additional money. The council was able to shave a great deal off of the expenditure list by simply reorganizing the budget, removing special purchases and services that are no longer being sought by the city.

Each department within city government made significant cuts to many segments of their budgets. Council members examined the budget line by line, and made cuts to everything from office supplies to travel expenses.

Laurel Police Chief Stan Langve informed the council that Laurel will be hosting the State Law Enforcement Parade and Memorial this coming May. Rather than asking the council to help with funding for this event, Cheif Langve elected to pursue fundraising within the community. Chief Langve acknowledges that his department is in need of quite a few upgrades, including a new police cruiser, but in the true spirit of helping the city find a balance, Langve will seek other sources of funding through community organizations in the form of special grants set up for that purpose.

Fire Chief Brent Peters opened his time during the budget meeting by suggesting that the council hire a full-time fire chief. It was Peters’ assertion that this would open up opportunities for increased revenue. Peters says that a full-time fire chief position would enable the department to start taking calls from outside the district, and generate billing for those services. This idea would come at the cost of budgeting the needed funds for setting up a professional level fire chief position.

Peters was also able to remove several previous year expenditures from the budget, including nearly $80,000 for a command truck from the previous year’s budget.

Laurel Ambulance Services director Lyndy Gurcheik requested an increase to the stipends earned by emergency medical personnel, as they had not been raised since 2011. Gurcheik noted the difficulty that Laurel is having in retaining EMS workers, and told the council that better stipends could result in an end to some of the staffing issues that department has been facing. Better staffing could let the Emergency Services Department explore revenue generating opportunities in long distance transport calls, which could be billed by the city. Another suggestion offered was the creation of an EMS district, which could enhance that department’s funding through a mill levy.

Public Works Director Kurt Markegard was able to cut expenditures in wages, supplies and maintenance costs for the Parks, Facilities and City Shop departments. Markegard wants to explore installing solar panels on some city buildings that have flat roofs. This would help the city save money by reducing utility costs.

Some of the budget meeting continued outside of council chambers. Department heads met with mayor Waggoner and his staff to make further cuts. Fire Chief Peters removed his request for funding a full-time fire chief. Additional stipends for ambulance workers were not approved. Other departments plan to further reduce expenditures by seeking out travel scholarships for training events.

Mayor Waggoner ended the sessions by thanking the city department heads for their cooperation in helping to balance the budget saying, “Every snip that we took off, we didn’t get any blowback from department heads. For the most part they did it themselves. We didn’t want to undercut anyone totally.” Mayor Waggoner also invites Laurel residents to get involved with the city in helping to find new revenue streams. “This town can do amazing things...we need help as a city,” says Waggoner.

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