Mayor casts ‘no’ vote on city budget

by Joni Astrup

Associate Editor

Elk River Mayor John Dietz said he’s “totally in favor” of 99 percent of the city’s 2014 budget.

But the 1 percent he has an issue with prompted him to cast the lone vote against it. The City Council voted 4-1 Monday to adopt the $12.8 million budget.

“I voted no simply because I feel strongly about the personnel issues,” Dietz said.

He wanted to see a police detective assigned to the Sherbune County Drug Task Force rather than hiring a deputy fire chief next year. The police detective isn’t in the budget; the deputy fire chief is slated to begin July 1.

The mayor also didn’t think the city needed to add a full-time parks maintenance position.

When asked about it, Dietz explained his position in an email to the Star News.

Regarding the drug detective, Dietz said Sherburne County Sheriff Joel Brott convinced him of the importance of the position. Nearly 25 percent of all drug-related cases in the county are from Elk River.

The task force is currently made up of a sergeant and three detectives from the Sherburne County Sheriff’s Office. Elk River Police Chief Brad Rolfe had requested putting an Elk River detective on the task force as one way to combat illegal drug activity, including a serious heroin problem that has resulted in several overdose deaths in the city. Rolfe has said that it’s ultimately his department’s responsibility to investigate drug crimes in Elk River, and he believes adding a city detective to the county’s Drug Task Force is the most effective way to do that.

Dietz supported Rolfe’s request.

“Drug sales and drug usage are very big concerns for me,” Dietz said. “Our police department does what it can in that area, but why not take advantage of joining a group (the Drug Task Force) where that is their sole mission? Hopefully this position will be back up for consideration in the 2015 budget.”

Dietz isn’t opposed to the deputy fire chief position, but objected to the timing.

He said he served on an Elk River fire task force for a year and, for that reason, is very sensitive about things that affect the Fire Department.

“Some of those meetings got very loud as the firefighters were concerned about proposed changes to the department,” Dietz said. “One of those changes was a new organizational chart that listed a new full-time deputy chief.”

The new chart was approved by the task force and the City Council, but Dietz said when firefighters questioned the new position, he told them it could happen anytime within five years but likely would not happen overnight.

“Then I see it is being proposed for 2014 before the ink is barely dry on the report,” Dietz said. “I would likely support the position for 2015, but I didn’t want to go back on what I told the firefighters.”

Dietz said he knows Fire Chief T. John Cunningham needs help and is trying to make positive changes in the department.

“I think the task force idea and the report that came out of that effort were very much needed,” the mayor added.

As for the park maintenance position, the mayor sees the need for increased hours there but said the majority of the work is done from April to October. He favored starting the position out as a seasonal one and then increasing it to full-time in the future.