Council begins budget talks for 2021

The Forest Lake Police Department plans to implement body-worn cameras this fall. 

Chief Rick Peterson presented to the council during its Aug. 10 meeting the first step in the implementation process. The body-worn cameras would be issued to every officer in the Police Department and would be activated during responses to calls. Peterson said that his officers have been requesting the body-worn cameras, but the department wasn’t able to obtain and implement them largely due to budget considerations.

“A few years ago, the costs and the data storage was going to be $40,000 per year. Last week, we found out it’ll cost us less than $10,000 per year, and the cost is going down every year. We’re looking at eventually $6,000 per year,” he said. 

The body-worn camera implementation was supposed to occur early this year but had to be put on hold due to the pandemic.

Council Member Kathy Bystrom had concerns regarding privacy and community response. According to Capt. Greg Weiss, the Police Department would keep the recordings private and would go through appropriate measures in determining if and how recordings should be shared.

As for the community response, Peterson said, “When we talked about it a couple years ago, it’s amazing how many community members thought we already had body-worn cameras.”

An audit would be performed by an external company every two years. 

The Police Department is soliciting public comment and feedback and will present the body-worn camera policy at a later council meeting, likely in September, for approval.

2021 budget discussions begin

The first discussion of the 2021 preliminary levy began during the council’s workshop on Monday, Aug. 17.

In the general fund, there was a reallocation of contracted services to fund a parks maintenance position, which had previously been contracted out. Due to a decline in building permit revenues following the anticipated economic downturn surrounding the pandemic, the city anticipates a $115,000 decrease for the parks and trails fund.

“That was a hit to our general fund budget, but we did our best to keep that hit at bay,” said Sandra Salin, the city finance director.

The initial budget proposed will increase the levy by $632,838, from $11,484,799 to $12,117,637. This would be a 5.83% increase this year. Last year’s percentage increase was at 5.74% increase.

“We don’t anticipate too many changes even though we took a big hit in that revenue,” Salin said. 

The breakdown of the proposed budget will include nearly 72% for the general fund, with 7.4% for capital equipment, including paving, debt service, and the economic development fund.

While home values aren't set yet by the county, with current estimations, a home with a value of $300,000 would see a property tax bill of $1,177 per year.

The biggest change, according to City Administrator Patrick Casey, is in regards to the capital equipment fund, which he said includes some expensive purchases that are necessary, including a ladder truck. 

“These have been in service for quite a long time,” Casey said. “They need replacement. They’re just worn out. We just have to figure out the best way to do that without sacrificing service, without breaking the budget.”

Discussions about the budget will continue during future meetings. The next discussion of the 2021 budget will be on Aug. 24 at 6 p.m. On Monday, Sept. 14, the council will approve to certify the proposed preliminary levy. Budget alterations can be made following the Sept. 14 meeting, but those alterations cannot exceed the certified preliminary levy.

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