More than halfway for K-9 unit

by April Scheinoha
The Thief River Falls Police Department is well on its way to having a canine join the force. At the Committee of the Whole meeting Tuesday, Nov. 22, Police Chief Dick Wittenberg provided an update on the fundraising effort.
Wittenberg said more than $16,000 has been raised since fundraising started a short time ago. The department has also received at least $6,000 in outstanding, firm pledges. 
The department’s goal is $30,000. Wittenberg said that amount would cover the cost of the dog, training, and two to three years of operating expenses.
Council member Don Sollom said Pennington County Sheriff Ray Kuznia also plans to include some money in his budget for the K-9 unit.
Wittenberg said he plans to ask the council for permission to purchase the dog at its next council meeting Tuesday, Dec. 6. While meeting as the Committee of the Whole, the council isn’t allowed to formally vote on matters.
Dogs are available on a first come, first served basis. Wittenberg noted that the city is at risk of losing a dog if approval weren’t granted soon. He said the department would like to have training completed sometime after Jan. 1.
If plans move forward, Officer Mike Roff, an experienced dog trainer, would serve as the K-9 officer. At an earlier council meeting, Roff said he and the dog would be trained through McDonough K-9 in Anoka. The narcotics/tracking dog would be either a Belgian Malinois or a labrador retriever.
The dog would provide assistance in narcotics detection and in tracking missing people.
Donations can be provided to Wittenberg at the Law Enforcement Center or Finance Director Angie Philipp at City Hall. Donations may also be mailed to the City of Thief River Falls, P.O. Box 528, Thief River Falls, MN 56701. Note that the donation is for the K-9 unit.
Committee of the Whole discussed the 2017 property tax. As of right now, the preliminary 2017 property tax levy will be $1,987,222, which is a 6 percent increase over last year. The city is taking into account a proposed tax capacity increase in 2017. As a result, a 6 percent levy increase results in a 0 percent city tax rate increase.
The council will hold a Truth in Taxation hearingTuesday, Dec. 6 at City Hall.  The council is expected to formally approve the property tax levy and city budget at its meeting Tuesday, Dec. 20. Prior to formal approval, the council may decrease the property tax levy; however, it cannot increase the levy beyond the preliminary amount.
At the Committee of the Whole meeting, Finance Director Angie Philipp provided council members with handouts detailing changes made by the council and city staff since the budgeting process began. She cited at least 15 instances where various council members and/or city staff met regarding the budget.
During this latest discussion, the issue of new office chairs arose. Currently, the 2017 budget includes $6,000 for 10 new office chairs. If the purchase were approved, the chairs would replace 20-year-old chairs used by the council, city attorney and city administrator in Council Chambers. Mayor Brian Holmer noted the chairs are worn out.
Council member Don Sollom raised concerns about spending $6,000 for chairs that the council only uses a few hours a month. He said that the council holds the purse strings, and it would be stupid to spend taxpayer money on new office chairs.
Council member Josh Hagen replied that the council could change its mind, but the purchase is at least in the 2017 budget.
Council member Curt Howe agreed with Sollom, noting that the public would consider the chairs to be”perfectly good chairs.”
Sollom soon suggested using the $6,000 for increased council salaries or for better chairs in the committee room at City Hall. Noting those stationary office chairs are harder than the office chairs in Council Chambers, he said the council spends more time in the committee room.
Regarding salaries, the mayor receives $600 per month, and the vice mayor, Jerald Brown, receives $575 per month. All other council members receive $550 per month. Philipp noted that rate has remained the same since 2003.
However, in June 2014, the council voted to increase its salary by $100 per month. That decision was rescinded six months later after the budget process. If the increase had been approved, it would have been effective Jan. 1, 2015.
Committee of the Whole discussed posting a forester/park maintenance position. The matter is expected to be considered at the next council meeting Tuesday, Dec. 6.
The position has been vacant for several years after Myles Olson retired. Forestry duties have since been handled by the Streets/Sanitation Department.
As proposed, the position would work in the Parks and Recreation Department. The employee would work in parks/arenas maintenance when not handling forestry responsibilities. There is currently a vacant parks arenas/maintenance position in the department.
Committee of the Whole discussed the position of information technology specialist. In April, Barry Froiland retired after serving as the billing manager/management information system director. The latter position’s responsibilities have been handled part-time by Froiland’s son Reid since that time. Reid Froiland said he doesn’t plan to leave his full-time job as a Lincoln High School math teacher to work full-time for the city.
Discussion centered on whether the position should be a part of the Teamsters union or the Management, Administrative, Professional and Supervisory bargaining unit.
Reid Froiland, who briefly looked at the job description prior to the meeting, suggested that the city seek someone with an MIS degree or computer science degree. He noted the former degree has a business emphasis, which would be suitable for the city’s situation.
The council is expected to consider the matter in the