Parking officer, arts role among city cuts | News

by CHRIS ROGERS

 

The city of Winona’s parking enforcement officer and its arts and culture coordinator are among eight positions slated to be eliminated in next year’s budget, city staff announced on Monday night. Other staff will help fill in, city officials said, and City Council members expressed hopes of restoring the cut positions in future years. The City Council also formally terminated the Alternative Response Team (ART) — a fledgling program to augment police response with social workers — while also directing city staff to include the ART program in the 2023 budget.

Due in part to rising costs and its reliance on deficit spending in recent years, the city faced a difficult financial situation this fall. The initial draft budget proposed by the former city manager included cutting six vacant positions and trimming funding for road repair, despite a five-percent tax levy increase and just over a half-million in proposed reserve spending. After the City Council voted in September to nix that deficit spending and tasked city staff with making up the difference, Acting City Manager Chad Ubl proposed cuts to additional staff positions, as well as eliminating the ART.

The first six vacant positions to be cut were a police investigator that formally acted as the school resource officer — Winona Area Public Schools eliminated its contract with the Winona Police Department (WPD) for that position in 2020 — an accountant, a street maintenance worker, a tree maintenance worker, a community development specialist who worked on economic development and housing, and a recreation coordinator in the park and recreation department.

On Monday, Ubl announced that the most recent cuts will include the WPD’s Community Service Officer — who among other duties, focused on downtown parking enforcement — a librarian, and the park and recreation department’s arts and culture coordinator. Previously, Ubl said he planned on cutting part-time positions in the park and recreation department. 

The arts and culture coordinator position was created in 2017, and Lee Gundersheimer has served in that role since its creation. The coordinator was meant to promote the arts and act as the point person at city hall for arts organizers planning events. Gundersheimer staffs the city’s Fine Arts Commission and has worked on a forthcoming Arts and Culture Strategic Plan. He also launched a number of new city-led programs, including the WINONArts series, which used private fundraising to put on concerts, film screenings, dances, and more.

“I think the city has developed a lot of momentum with the arts over the last few years, and I think this is unfortunate,” City Council member Pam Eyden said in an interview. “We do need someone championing the arts.” She added that she hopes the position can be restored in the future.

Ubl had previously announced plans to cut one position in the WPD. Monday night’s announcement that the position was the community service officer (CSO), a civilian post, meant that the department will not lose any licensed peace officers. “We are maintaining 38 officers,” Ubl said. However, the move could affect the city’s parking enforcement, which was a major component of the CSO’s work. A 2018 parking study recommended that, in order to make the most of the parking the city has downtown, the city should dedicate a full-time position to parking enforcement.

The WPD will still enforce downtown parking rules, Deputy Chief Jay Rasmussen said. “Although we can’t replace the full-time position due to budget cuts and constraints, we were able to bring in some part-time hours,” he explained. Part-time staff will spend roughly 14 hours a week enforcing parking rules, he stated. “We’re hoping to really fill the void that was created,” he added.

“I think anytime we reduce, it’s going to have an impact on service,” Ubl said when asked whether the CSO’s elimination would affect parking enforcement. “And like I mentioned last night, that’s something we’ll have to look at in the 2023 budget.” He added, “This is the reality of budget reductions; there will be some service areas that will be reduced.”

The City Council will take a final vote on the 2022 budget and the proposed cuts at its December 20 meeting.

Also on Monday, the City Council voted unanimously to formally terminate its agreement with Hiawatha Valley Mental Health Center (HVMHC) for the ART. The vote also called on city staff to include the $185,000-per-year program in the 2023 budget.

The ART was meant to send two social work professionals along with or instead of police on certain calls for service. It was strongly endorsed by WPD leaders and the council, but, like many businesses struggling to find enough job candidates, the HVMHC was never able to fill both positions and the program never truly got off the ground.

“I think considering the budget constraints we’re under, I think it makes sense to not budget for these positions … It doesn’t make sense to hold a position open when there’s no one in it,” City Council member Eileen Moeller said. However, she said that funding the program in the future was extremely important.

City Council member George Borzyskowski agreed. “These positions are very much important, and it’s going to be a big development in police departments moving forward,” he said.

“It is a pause; it is not necessarily an end to this type of programming,” Mayor Scott Sherman said.

HVMHC is still part of Southeast Minnesota Crisis Response, which offers on-call mental health professionals at 844-274-7472.

[email protected]

You may also like...