Stassen says change will save City $60,000

    Over the objection of the AFSCME union and a lone vote against cast by Tom Vedbraaten, the Crookston City Council’s Ways & Means Committee this week voted in favor of City Administrator Shannon Stassen’s recommendation to restructure the city hall staff, an opportunity for a money-saving change that he said presented itself when City Clerk Angie Menge resigned and a Water Department office staff member announced her retirement.

    When Menge announced she was leaving earlier this spring to take a position with Tri-Valley Opportunity Council, the council began pondering a proposal to reclassify the position to a deputy city clerk/administrative assistant that would be paid less and would not require a city clerk’s certification. In the meantime, Stassen said, the Water Department office staff member announced her retirement, which presented a modified opportunity. With the Water Department a few months into a four or five-year effort to replace all residential water meters in town and fully automate the system, Stassen said the City’s long-term budget outlook included a layoff in the Water Department office anyway; by combining Menge’s former position with the position being vacated by the retirement into a single position, he said the future layoff wouldn’t be necessary.

    One option was to stick with the status quo and replace Menge with a licensed city clerk and replace the retiring Water Department office staff member. Another option presented by Stassen to the council was to stick with the original proposal that involved filling Menge’s position with the combined deputy city clerk/administrative assistant. The option he recommended for approval, to eliminate the Water Department cashier/assistant billing clerk position and combine it with the modified deputy city clerk position into a deputy city clerk/administrative assistant that splits duties between the Water Department and Finance Department, was OK’ed by the council committee, with Vedbraaten voting against.

    Whenever there’s a retirement on the City of Crookston staff, Stassen said it’s appropriate to revisit the entire City operation and see if any improved efficiencies can be found. Menge’s departure, coupled with the Water Department retirement, was a prime opportunity to do just that, he said.

    As a result of the staffing change, the Water Department’s drive-up window at city hall will be going away. In its place, based on council member comments, will likely be a drive-up drop-off box for water customers who like to pay their bill in that fashion. Currently, the drop-off box is located at the rear of city hall, but requires that a person exit their vehicle to use it. It appears it will be moved to where the drive-up window is currently located.

    While council members in addition to Vedbraaten, such as Ward 2’s Steve Erickson, expressed reservations about the negative impact of the change on the level of service the City provides to its residents, in the end council members agreed that the estimated $60,000 savings that would result was significant.

    “That’s a big deal,” Ward 1 Council Member Jake Fee noted.

    “We’re progressing, we’re moving along,” Mayor Wayne Melbye added. “I almost hate to say it, but it does take less manpower because of more technology, and this is one of those times. If we feel we can handle it, then we move into the next dimension.”

    AFSCME union representatives attended the council committee meeting. Asked for the reasons behind the union’s opposition to the change, Chris Kapella, labor representative for AFSCME Council 65, said that as a result work is being taken away from the bargaining unit and given to management. “That was certified bargaining unit work,” he said. “The union feels that work is our work, and you’re actively taking away our work and giving it to management, and that’s different than simply eliminating a position.”