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Hancock OKs budget, gives Mary Babcock five-year contract

Hancock City Manager Mary Babcock discusses the city’s budget during a work session before Wednesday’s regular council meeting. (Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette)

HANCOCK — The Hancock City Council approved its budget and millage rates for the coming year at its meeting Wednesday. 

During a public hearing before the meeting, Police Chief Tami Sleeman also addressed questions the council had raised at a previous budget work session about an increase in hours worked by the department in the first four months of 2024 versus the previous year. 

Sleeman said most of the difference — about 960 of the 1,168 hours identified — came from additional staffing. Officer Darren Olson did not start until the middle of March in 2023, while new Officer Ben Galetto has been full-time for all but two weeks of 2024. The department has also received grants it did not have in the past to cover the cost of academy training and wages for new officers, Sleeman said. 

“I just felt it was important that you understood, because I don’t want you to think that I’m not doing a good job, or that I’m incompetent in running this police department, because the department means everything to me, and doing a good job for you guys is very important,” she said. “So I just wanted to make it clear that we weren’t like the Wild Wild West out spending money left and right, because that wasn’t the case.”

“I don’t think any of us think that,” Councilor Whitney Warstler said, garnering agreement from other council members.

The council also approved millage rates for the upcoming year: 13.1707 for the general fund and .7942 mills each for the fire department, police and recreation. The operating millage had been rolled back by 0.8 mills due to a 5% increase in property tax revenues.

The budget includes $400,000 from an issuance of notes approved Wednesday by the council as a tax anticipation loan. 

“The only reason we need this is because we have so many receivables out there in the general fund,” City Manager Mary Babcock said. Those include $1.1 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and $267,000 from the Economic Development Agency for the Business and Technology Park. 

Babcock recently talked with Rep. Greg Markkanen, who is working with Sen. Ed McBroom through the governor’s office to get money released for the FEMA project. 

“We tried to explain to our FEMA person at the state, ‘That’s pretty close to what we can get in property tax millage. We need that money. That’s huge to us,'” she said. “Luckily, we had a large cushion in that we’ve been working with over the past couple years and getting that back in will give us our cushion back.”

After going into closed session at the end of the meeting, the council reconvened to approve a five-year contract for Babcock, as well as her performance review. Babcock received a 4.6 out of 5. 

“Mary’s doing an excellent job, and we’re happy with the progress that the city’s made,” said Mayor Kurt Rickard.

The council also voted to stop livestreaming meetings over Zoom. The practice had begun during the pandemic, but was being sparingly used. Clerk Linda Kalinec said meetings have had one or two people watching at most. Wednesday, there were none. 

Rickard cited the expenses borne by the city to keep the microphones working, as well as the time Kalinec spends setting up the feed.

The vote was 5-1, with Warstler backing continued use of Zoom. 

“I know no one ever comments, but I feel like we should do it,” she said. 

Council members said they would be willing to revisit the idea if demand for it returns. 

In other action, the council:

• Tabled approval of the master plan update. Councilor Ryan Tanner first called for removal of a section near the start describing winter climate as one of the city’s obstacles, due to it not being addressed anywhere else in the draft. Councilors said they have other additions; Councilor Lisa McKenzie said the plan should also mention the need for child care in the area.

For a small change, such as Tanner’s recommended deletion, the council could approve the plan with amendments, Babcock said. More extensive revisions would require another public hearing. 

The council will schedule a work session to discuss suggested changes.

• Approved a notice of award to B&B Contracting of Calumet for $784,364 of reconstruction work to be completed on the Minnesota Street Category B Grant. B&B had done prior subcontracting work for the city. It had also been one of the main helpers after a 2021 incident where a semi overturned and spilled gasoline at Santori’s Corner, Babcock said. 

• Scheduled a joint meeting of the Downtown Development Association, City Council and Planning Commission for 6 p.m. Sept. 9.

• Approved a purchase agreement with Joshua and Kiara Larson for Spruce Haven Estates Lot 20 in the amount of $20,000.

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