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City Council to tackle budget, fire relief issues later this month

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By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

Budget talks and a decision on contributions to the Morris Fire Relief fund will be tackled later this month.

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City Manager Blaine Hill will be fulfilling military obligations in Kansas and New Jersey over the next few weeks.

The city is facing Local Government Aid cuts as a result of Gov. Tim Pawlenty's budget-balancing "unallotment" decisions. The fire relief association also is concerned about the city wanting to cut an annual contribution of more than $21,000 as part of its budget cutting process.

Hill said he will continue to monitor city business daily through phone calls and email, and that the extended absence is a result of schedule changes by the military, which caused his training and in-service sessions to be set back-to-back. Hill said it will be his last long-term military obligation before his expected retirement in May.

In other city business:

• The city and the Morris Area School District will renew their School Resource Officer agreement.

Over the last few years, Morris Police Officer Anita Liebl spends two-thirds of her time in the school district. Chief of Police Jim Beauregard has said juvenile crime rates in the city have dropped since the program was instituted.

The total cost for salaries and benefits is $35,179, with the school district paying $21,107 of the total.

• The city approved submitting a grant for a 2010 Transit Grant from the State of Minnesota.

The grant application will be for $379,865 to cover estimated expenses, according to city Finance Director Gene Krosschell.

Krosschell said he attended a grant application workshop and was informed that cuts could be forthcoming due to state budget-balancing measures.

The city received a $291,440 grant in 2009. Krosschell said he will keep the council informed about possible changes.

• The City of Morris had an estimated population of 5,205 in 2008, and an estimated 2,105 households.

State Demographer Tom Gillaspy informed the city in a June 1 memo.

The 2010 Census begins next year. Hill attended a Census informational meeting in Alexandria about the process.

• Underground work is completed and curb and gutter work continues in the Highland Homes Addition.

Hill said that while, overall, the project is ahead of schedule, delays in paving and landscaping weren't guaranteed to also be finished early.

• The walking and biking path from Columbia Avenue to the Pomme de Terre Park entrance has been overlayed. A portion of the trail west of the Pomme de Terre River is expected to be overlayed in 2010.

• The city's new Lodging Tax has brought in about $8,500 in the first quarter of 2009. The tax, which was instituted when the council approved cutting an annual $7,000 contribution to the Morris Area Chamber of Commerce, will be used by the chamber for promotions. The city can impose a lodging tax only if the proceeds are used for promotional activities.

A Tourism Board will be established to determine how the money is spent.

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