Budget meeting held

City department heads fielded questions about new staff positions and other expenses in a proposed 2015 budget at a committee meeting of the Minot City Council Thursday.

The proposed $155.5 million budget includes 44 new full-time equivalent positions.

Fire Chief CJ Craven presented an adjusted schedule for hiring staff for a new fire station that should trim some money from the overall cost. Rather than hiring 12 fire fighters in April, six would be hired in April and another six a few months before the new southeast fire station opens, which is anticipated in November 2015.

Asked about whether salaries or workload create the most retention issues, Police Chief Jason Olson said better salaries would help address what is a significant problem for the department. The department has lost officers to state agencies, and it can take six months to get a replacement up to speed, he said. The department in recent years has averaged 10 to 15 percent of its officers in the training stage.

Olson was asked to present the council with a compensation comparison with other law enforcement agencies.

The police department is requesting three additional officers from city funds and another school resource officer funded largely by a federal grant. With 75 officers, the department is at about one officer per 634 residents, compared to a statewide average of one officer for every 617 residents.

In reviewing the engineering department budget, council member Kevin Connole voiced concern about what he perceives as under-staffing. The department is requesting a commercial plan reviewer, a permit technician and a zoning enforcement officer.

Connole said he is concerned that the department doesn’t have the staff to advance private projects.

“I am afraid that we are losing good business and projects to other cities,” he said. “There’s a bottleneck that we just can’t overcome.”

City engineer Lance Meyer explained that Minot operates differently than cities like Bismarck and Fargo that have large staffs to do more of the work in-house.

“We are not set up for that, and to hire that many folks and completely restructure would take a long time,” he said.

“I could use extra engineers, but I don’t have room for them,” he added, citing space limitations in the engineering building. “That’s why they are not in the budget.”

Meyer said the positions being requested will alleviate a situation in which the city is falling behind in issuing permits and completing paperwork. A zoning enforcement officer also will enable the city to better address the growing number of public concerns about violations of residential housing codes, he said.

With a new commercial terminal expected to come online in November 2015, more staff are proposed to keep up with the growth at the airport. Airport director Andrew Solsvig said a facilities foreman is desired for the second half of the year to oversee a facility that will be three times as large as the existing terminal. Maintenance includes everything from making sure elevators are working to removing snow.

A new airport services coordinator would keep track of airport users from tenants to taxis as well as process and monitor contracts.