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Budget passes despite disagreement

The city of Farmington's 2009 budget was approved Monday night, but not without a last-ditch effort by two council members to save a staff position, and a feisty exchange between outgoing mayor Kevan Soderberg and council member Steve Wilson.

For most purposes, the 2009 preliminary budget had been settled weeks ago. It got preliminary approval in September and was explained to the public during a Dec. 1 truth in taxation hearing. All that was left Monday was to formally set the 2009 levy, then approve the budget for the coming year.

The budget is tight -- increasing about $241,000 over the revised 2008 budget -- but it is balanced.

That meant some cuts. A proposal to create a full time fire chief position was put on hold for a year because paying for that post would have meant adding to the levy. The council cut back on the amount allocated for salt to clear streets, and found several other cost-cutting measures to stay within its 2009 levy.

But one of the cuts did not set well with Wilson, from the time he learned of it when budget discussions began last summer right up to the last meeting of the year. That cut was $100,000 allocated for the recreation supervisor post currently held by Patti Norman.

Though he admitted to being friends with Norman, Wilson said his concerns were more about how the quality of the parks and recreation program will be affected with her absence. The city has made strides in bringing YMCA programs to the community -- Wilson is the city's representative to the YMCA -- but Wilson said he does not feel the city should bank on that program to pick up slack for parks and recreation programs.

He also cited one program, the youth basketball league, that was run through parks and recreation, but has now gone to School District 192 Community Education.

"We are dismantling our recreation programs," he said.

Wilson proposed finding a way to support Norman's position for another six months, in order to give the new city council time to review the budget and see if there are alternatives to cutting the position. He said he has not seen any information from city staff on how the current programs will be managed.

"I can't keep track of every detail in this city, but this is one that has bothered me for six months," he said. "I see nothing but a lose-lose proposition coming out of this."

Council member Christy Jo Fogarty pointed out that, in a survey completed a couple of years ago, most residents said they would rather lose city services than have their taxes increase. The recommendation to cut parks programs, she said, falls in line with the wishes of the residents.

A disagreement

It was the final meeting of 2008, and of outgoing mayor Soderberg's term, was marred when a heated discussion erupted between himself and Wilson. In trying to make his point that he was not satisfied that city staff had given him the information he needed to know how the elimination of Norman's position would affect the parks and recreation program, Wilson's tone turned critical of staff. Soderberg, though, would not have it.

Soderberg interrupted Wilson at the council table, telling Wilson he would not allow him to continue denigrating staff. Wilson said he was merely expressing his opinion. The two verbally sparred for several minutes.

The 2009 levy was approved on a 4-1 vote, with council member David Pritzlaff dissenting after asking for support to further lower the levy and receiving none. The budget was approved on a 3-2 vote, with Wilson and Pritzlaff casting the dissenting votes.