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Public calls for budget changes
Residents rally around filling parks supervisor position
Monroe City Hall
File photo

MONROE — The newly renovated City Hall council chambers was packed with attendees Monday looking to assert their displeasure over the decision not to include a parks supervisor position in the proposed budget. 

Nearly 50 residents, along with department employees and officials, filled every chair and stood in a line at the back wall looking to either hear more about the proposed document or stand at the podium to speak about their grievances.

Namely, the plan not to fill the parks supervisor position previously held by late Paul Klinzing. 

A former president of the Board of Park and Recreation Commissioners, Bill Bethke, stood before council members to ask that the position not be split between two or three employees, but that someone with knowledge and understanding of the job be hired to take on the multitude of tasks asked of the supervisor.

“I’m here to challenge the city council to reconsider what it wants the parks department to be,” Bethke, a current member of the city Plan Commission, said during the Monroe Common Council meeting. 

He added that project needs to be developed, donation requests need to be managed and all of the work which goes into creating new parks and better green spaces for the city are because of a liaison for the department.

“If you don’t want those things, don’t have a parks supervisor,” Bethke said.

Monroe resident Bernie Robertson complimented Klinzing’s performance and noted his instrumental role in developing a system designated as Tree City USA and other accolades.

“Those things don’t happen by themselves,” Robertson said.

Some recalled their children playing in the parks over years, rewarded by the outside space and having a place to go outside instead of staying indoors and remaining inactive. Rural Monroe resident Brian Bassett said he and his son would go to the park each Sunday. When he lived within the city, he saw what he referred to laughingly as a “gorge” near 2nd Avenue filled in “slowly” by the parks department because workers understood the needed process under Klinzing. He specifically pointed to the quality of the parks as a reason for young people engaging in outdoor activities. Others expressed concern over the plans not to replace two outgoing police officers within the budget. 

Former council member Reid Stangel pointed mostly to the importance of the parks position, but expressed concerns over keeping the city safe if the department is “down” three positions. Fellow former alderman Tom Miller said while he has criticized the way money was spent in the past does not mean the city should not maintain services. 

LaVern Isley, Monroe, said he did not agree with cutting the parks supervisor position in favor of keeping the position of city administrator, currently held by Phil Rath. Isley was echoed by some of the hearing’s speakers. He said he would prefer to pay a mayor and council adequately to run the city. 

A number of residents also approached the podium concerned over the maintenance of trees in the wake of the Emerald Ash Borer taking hold within the city. The pests will likely continue to kill trees, possibly escalating within the next three years, and public speakers like Diane Krebs, Monroe, called for someone with a background in forestry to address issues.

“You have to have a captain of every kind of ship,” she said, noting she has “nothing against laborers.”

Current parks board president Brian Saugstad has called for the position to be filled in previous meetings. He said while he spoke to Rath and evaluated the need versus the funding, he understood the proposal, but still could not support it.

“I know the budget is a problem, but fixing it by breaking something else is not going to make things better,” Saugstad said.

While there was visible opposition to redistributing the duties of the parks supervisor position, there were also some comments about outsourcing duties, like the use of a contracted service to provide an administrative assistant within City Hall.  

Part of the proposed budget includes a suggestion to contract out comptroller services, which would mean current city Comptroller Bridget Schuchart would be relieved of her position to accommodate funding.  

The 2019 draft includes an increase in the total levy, but a decrease in the tax rate for residents from $10.47 per $1,000 of equalized value to $9.82, meaning in 2019 the owner of a $100,000 home would pay $982 in city taxes.

Rath said the goal of the budget has been to maintain services for residents. He added that while the unusual crowd of attendees drew people in opposition, if the budget had been drafted differently it may have drawn an equal reaction from other types of people.

After hearing concerns, council members decided to move discussion of the budget to a separate special council meeting with the draft as the sole agenda item. The meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 14 at City Hall.