Council could transfer nature center to nonprofit

By Tim Ruzek

Post-Bulletin, Austin MN

While city leaders are seeking budget cuts for this year and next, they’re also eyeing more long-term possibilities for saving money.

After going through a list of 100 budget-cut options Monday for 2009 and 2010, Austin City Council members heard about several more long-term ideas to consider, especially if forced to pursue them because of deeper state-aid cuts than expected.

Under one option, responsibility for the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center would be transferred from the city to the nonprofit Friends of the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center.


The city’s contribution gradually would decline from $300,000 to nothing in three years.

That might need to be looked at for starting in 2010, according to a city memo, but the idea, along with other long-term options, weren’t discussed much Monday.

City officials noted in their memo that the city of Duluth is gradually turning over operations of its zoo to a nonprofit group.

Other long-term options being proposed as options for the city include:

  • Eventually creating a public-safety director position because there will likely be two department head retirements from public safety in the next three years.

The fire chief would be replaced by the police chief as a public safety director, with the assistant fire chief running the daily operations.
Upon the police chief’s retirement, the city would replace him with a public safety director to oversee both departments.

  • If Riverland Community College develops a two-year fire training program (which is being considered), trainees could be housed at the fire station for overnight coverage.

The city also could expand its part-time firefighter overnight program. That would allow full-time firefighters to move to work-day and evening hours, which could allow for a reduction in the number of full-time firefighters or get them more involved in other city functions.

  • Selling Nob Hill, the city’s sledding hill on Austin’s west side along Turtle Creek. It would create revenue and save on maintenance costs.
  • Look at working with Austin Utilities to contract out tree-trimming work.
  • If Austin Utilities ever moves from the Austin Municipal Building (which it shares with city offices), the city could see personnel savings by combining the receptionist and secretary positions and using all three floors of the building for city hall and Park & Rec.
  • Think about approaching Mower County again about reducing the cost to the city for assessing services. This year it’s $195,000.
  • Possibly add a franchise fee to the wireless Internet system Austin Utilities is trying to implement.
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