A special meeting of the Amery City Council to discuss budget began with the payment of an unbudgeted cost.
“Back this spring when we updated the website, we needed someone to work the back end and get our calendar and other things moving forward. Debbie Elmer at that time came to us and agreed to it. She was qualified and applicable. She said she was going to charge $75.00 an hour, but we never got a time limit on it and we never asked her how many hours it was going to take. We finally got a bill and it is $4,800.00,” said Mayor Paul Isakson.
Council member Tim Strohbusch asked if there was a contract in place for the service, to which Isakson responded there was not.
Strohbusch asked, “Is there a budget item for this service in place?”
“There was not,” responded Isakson. He then asked City Clerk-Treasurer Ben Jansen if there was money to pay for it.
Jansen said, “Technically, but it is not budgeted for.”
Strohbusch asked, “Don’t we have city staff to do that kind of work?”
Isakson said, “Not really. This was dealing with the highly technical, backroom working nomenclature of a program at a city plus level. None of us here could do that.”
Council member Sarah Flanum said there were definitely things listed on the invoice that could have been done by city staff.
“I will be the first to admit we needed to update the website. It was quite outdated. Hine sight being what it is, it would have been really nice to know how many hours were being invested into it, so we would know how much we were looking at as an expense,” said Flanum.
Council President Rick Van Blaricom said he believed Elmer did a lot for the promotion of Amery and felt, “She has been a very positive influence in the City of Amery.” He said they should go ahead and pay it although it was, “A difference in expectations.”
“We’ll get a contract next time and make sure it is in the budget,” said Isakson.
“It was definitely our fault if we didn’t have anything in place to know what was going to be done and how. There is no doubt that the work was done,” said council member Eric Elkin.
Strohbusch asked who authorized the work to be done. “Ya, there is some technical stuff but ‘Emailing school, library, churches and other organizations to coordinate information and encourage implantation of the calendar.’ for two hours and create graphics for annual events is technical work but not beyond what city staff could be doing,” Strohbusch said.
“Who approved that she would do this stuff,” asked Strohbusch.
Isakson responded, “I guess Patty (Patty Bjorklund, City Administrator) and I were in the meeting with her.”
Strohbusch said, “We cannot be doing business like this, we know better. We need to have contracts for service. We need to have clear-cut goals. We cannot be having this discussion.”
He said they cannot just say they are going to do a project and not have money available in the budget. He finished with, “I hope it is a lesson learned.”
Van Blaricom motioned to pay the invoice. “With the broad understanding that it will not be done again,” he said.
Bjorklund asked if she could say something, and she was allowed. “I did approach her about doing a contract on at least four occasions,” said Bjorklund, who also said she had never heard the rate of 75 dollars an hour.
The motion was seconded by Strohbusch who said, “Reemphasizing that we need to do it right in the future and have contracts in place. We need to have a budget item in place. This is not our money, it is the city’s money.”
The motion passed unanimously.