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City Council: Budget boosted for phone system

The City Council voted yes Tuesday night to three items for the new City Hall under construction at Maple and Lewis streets.

It voted 6-1 to spend $64,600 over the budget to get a new phone system along with switching hardware and a firewall to handle the building's phone and computer-networking needs.

Council Member Tom Caflisch cast the "no" vote for both items. He charged construction committee members with carelessly spending thousands that add up.

"We will save approximately $500 a month" said City Finance Director Julie Bergstrom about the new phone system, the more expensive of the two.

Her memorandum says River Falls will save the money by eliminating up to 30 phone lines. The council figures the system will pay for itself in six years.

Caflisch said such things usually come out of a contingency fund, and added, "We don't have a contingency fund."

Council Member Jim Nordgren, also city comptroller and on the City Hall Construction Committee, said not having a contingency fund actually saves money. According to him, when the normally five percent fund is there, it gets spent; if it's not there, overages tend to be minimal.

"We will have an overrun of no more than three percent," said Nordgren about the $5-million project.

Council Member Mike Woolsey said he doesn't like going over budget either, but also said it's a matter of balance. He joked that judging by today's City Hall, he bets the phone system will be around for at least 20-25 years.

"When do you pay for it?" Woolsey asked, commenting that council can't keep "kicking this bucket down the road" and expecting prices to decrease.

Council Member Joleen Larson agreed, saying the city couldn't get the new phone system without getting new switches, too.

"I think we need to upgrade here, folks," said Larson.

The council unanimously agreed on buying furniture and a file-storage system that requires a special floor. The furniture budget allowed $225,000, so the city deleted some vacant-office pieces and will re-use other pieces to afford the file system.

Council members discussed but made no motion to approve an extra $8,500 for a second power-door electrical setup on the new City Hall's lower level.

City Maintenance Supervisor Tom Schwalen and Building Inspector David Hovel agreed in separate memorandums the building complies with accessibility laws. The main entrance has a budgeted power door and the building has an elevator.

Intern OK'd

The City Council discussed at its Jan. 13 meeting whether to allow the Planning Department to hire an intern as in the past.

Caflisch reminded the council of its agreed-upon method for overcoming the city's general budget deficit to not replace employees without council's review and approval.

The council had delayed a decision and asked Community Development Director Buddy Lucero to shave hours and tell how the intern's time would be used.

Lucero submitted that report Tuesday, with full-time summer hours gone and costs cut from $9,000 to $3,000.

Council Member David Cronk said it's money well spent. He thinks River Falls has an obligation to educate young people about city government and planning.

Mayor Don Richards agreed. Parks and Recreation Department Chairwoman Susan Reese spoke in favor of a planning intern, listing work the last one had done.

The council discussed partnerships with UW-River Falls, a city-intern program, other departments' use of interns and how young job seekers value the experience.

All other council members voted yes, but Caflisch voted no to the hiring and said, "This is not something we should do."