The November 8 regular Houston City Council meeting was much quieter in several ways than previous meetings had been. In part, this was due to the installation of 81 baffles which improved the acoustics of the new community center; in part, it was due to the fact that the OHV trail was not on the agenda, nor was it discussed at all! PWD Randy Thesing shared that more baffles were yet to be installed.
The upcoming holiday and winter season was the focus of much of the council discussion. Thesing reported that the Christmas wreaths the city uses to decorate lamp posts for the holidays were in really bad shape. The past few years, the city has received many complaints about the condition of the decorations, and several groups talked about replacing them. At this time, no one has moved forward on the project. Thesing asked the council for guidance.
City Administrator Michelle Quinn informed the council that such wreaths would likely cost several hundred dollars each. Both Tony Schultz and Cody Mathers felt the supply issue now would probably make rapid delivery impossible. As a result, the council decided not to use the wreaths this year.
Wintertime indoor walking at the community center was set for 7:30 a.m. to noon, Mondays through Thursdays from December to April. Walkers will need to bring gym shoes to wear. Although some community members asked for afternoon time as well, the council felt the morning time was adequate and would allow for staff to clean as needed before evening and weekend events at the center. The council assured the public that the building use would be monitored and times could be adjusted through the winter as needed.
The lone snow removal bid from Ole’s Excavating was opened and accepted. This was for additional help after large snow storms along the state highway corridor. The state reimburses the city for these expenses.
Steve Skifton, Houston Fire Department chief, brought three items to the council. The fire truck loan from USDA at 2.125% was set at a 12-year repayment plan. There were no grants available at this time. The city and township will be splitting the $31,300 yearly payment with each paying half.
Skifton recommended an adjustment to the current benefit level for the PERA (Public Employees Retirement Association) Statewide Volunteer Firefighter Plan. The council agreed to raise the benefit from $1,400 to $1,800 a year as suggested.
The council appointed the two fire department officers up for reappointment to another two-year term.
Jayne Overstreet attended the meeting to inform the council about SMIF and what it does for Houston. SMIF (Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation) was established through partial funding from the McKnight Foundation 35 years ago to “provide economic and philanthropic support to the 80 rural counties of Minnesota.” In 2020, approximately $21,000 was given to various efforts in Houston including the Houston Community Foundation, STEM school, the backpack program, and the library; SMIF partnered with the city on the purchase of a refrigerator for the new community center. SMIF distributes a total of about $5 million each year; in 2020 that rose to $12 million during COVID. As she wrapped up her presentation, Overstreet asked that the council again support SMIF by donating; she noted that, in 2020, the council had donated $200.
After the presentation, councilwoman Emily Krage suggested that perhaps the council could apply for a grant for the community Christmas decorations for next year.
In other business, the council:
•Approved pay application #7 totaling $202,660.65 for the wastewater treatment plant; Thesing shared that 90% of the concrete work (and 30% of total work) was completed; Matt Mohs said the emergency generator has been delivered, and an updated schedule will be out soon;
•Issued liquor licenses to JT’s and the American Legion contingent on receiving the necessary paperwork;
•Approved a recall for the general obligations bond 2011A; this will be paid in February 2022;
•Accepted resignations from police officer Brett Levin, Chamber of Commerce Director Taylor Laschenski, and Nature Center Assistant Grace Shupe;
•Approved lease of a postage machine at $170.43 per quarter year for 60 months; this saves five cents per piece of mail for the city.
The next council meeting will be December 13 at 6 p.m. at the community center; the public is welcome to attend.