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Hancock City Council proposing major cuts

They have nickeled and dimed. Looked in every fund, department and account. Things have been streamlined, cut completely and put off for a few years. However, in the end, it looks as though the City of Hancock may have to make some very difficult decisions. Some that require either cutting a service, department, employee or benefits.

The council held a three hour special meeting this week to try to find a way to recover the estimated $45,000 in Local Government Aid that they contemplate not receiving from the state this year. Since the levy for this year was already set, taxes can not be increased. Therefore the council asked each department to try to come up with areas to cut.

The Hancock Fire Department was first on the agenda with Allen Thiel giving his report. He suggested cutting the reserve set-aside each year for a new fire truck, which amounts to about $5,500. All other areas of the fire department budget are important to keep it operating.

The next department to report was the library, with head librarian Phyllis Joos reporting on her findings. Joos had a hard time finding areas to cut in her limited budget but after going through line by line she found about $1,300.

After reviewing the library department budget, the council suggested the possibility of cutting the library department by closing the library. This would save $13,000 this year and $25,000 next year.

The police department was next, with Don Heikkinen reporting on his suggestions. Areas of cuts in the police department were some attorney fees, trainings, and increasing license fees. After a line by line survey the savings would be about $5,874.

The council also brought up discontinuing the police department in the city and contracting with the county. The cost to contract with the county was $39,000 for 10 hours a week beyond what they are already doing. This would not mean a large savings for the city but would be something.

The disadvantage to this would be that the police response time for emergencies, both criminal and medical, would be greater. There would not be a police officer driving around to keep crime down. The city gets very little back from the money raised from tickets no matter if issued by the city police or county.

"I would hate to lose the police department," Heikkinen stated. "I do the best I can. I am on call 24-hours a day and never ask to be paid extra for that duty. If I want to take a break I have to call the county to cover."

Public Works Director Vern Christie then reported on the many departments under his command. In the streets, parks, ice and snow departments the line item savings could be approximately $11,000. This would mean no upkeep of city streets, cutting one time of sweeping streets and cutting the hours of part time help.

In the water and sewer funds, the city could borrow money for a couple years and then levy the funds back when the LGA dollars return to previous levels. Each fund was in the black last year so it was suggested that $10,000 could be borrowed from each fund into the general fund for the next year. It would still leave these funds in the black.

The final area of discussion was to make changes to employee benefits. One of the primary areas discussed was in the insurance coverage. This would need to be looked into further in order to see how much can be saved and what the coverage changes would be.

After the lengthy discussion it was decided to make some final decisions at a special meeting on April 6, which is the Board of Review meeting. A decision should have been made by then by the state, so the city would have a clear view of the future for the next few years.

It is the hope of council that any cuts made for 2010 and 2011 will be only for those two years and that the state will reinstate funding the following years.