The Preston City Council heard several annual reports from its various departments on Monday night, February 6. Ramon Hernandez represented the fire department, Elizabeth Anderson gave the library report, Blaise Sass reported on the police department and Gabby Kinneberg provided updates from the EDA and tourism.
Hernandez began the series of reports by explaining that the department currently has 23 members, including officers Hernandez as chief, Lee Larson as assistant, Dustin Arndt as treasurer and Marcus Ertl as secretary.
The department had 24 fire calls in 2022 with 30 controlled grass burns. He stated the fire department holds training at least once a month, totaling 1,881 hours of training during 2022.
Community outreach is also important to the organization, with bingo held on Thursday nights at B&B Olympic Bowl, assisting with the 4-H safety programs, attending National Night Out events, and trick-or-treating this past year, which was a lot of fun for members dressing in costumes.
Goals for 2023 include continued efforts to maintain safety for the team and the community, increasing the department and team health, conducting more hands-on training, and putting a new pumper truck into service this spring.
Challenges for 2023 include the rising costs of equipment, including the costs for turnout gear and air packs. Finally, finding good firefighters is always an ongoing challenge, he noted.
Reporting from the Preston Public Library, Anderson highlighted several “beyond the books” initiatives and collections the library has developed over the past year, including equipment needed to play disc golf, light therapy units, ukuleles which can be checked out and used for classes, and board games and puzzles.
Anderson also told the council the library has partnered with Thrift Books, which is a website where people can buy used books. The library posts books that have been withdrawn from local shelves and several have been sold with funds being reinvested in new materials.
The library also offers programming for all ages, including storytime and summer reading for children, craft days and game days for families, a winter reading program for adults, mystery dates with books and author talks and other special events.
A few 2022 number stats were shared, including 22,014 items borrowed, 8,470 visitors, 892 program attendees, 97 new library cards and 1,407 questions answered.
Other current projects and goals for the coming year include a community collaboration grant with the historical society in which an oral history project will be conducted. Anderson also reported that the library looks forward to adding the veterans home to its library day, where staff delivers books to the assisted living facilities in town.
Anderson concluded by telling the council the library continues to host events and build a collection that meets the needs and interests of all age groups, trying to provide a diverse collection of programming and resources.
Police Chief Blaise Sass took the floor and updated the council on the activities of his department, including the acquisition of a new squad car in 2022 and new tasers purchased with a partial grant from the Preston Area Community Foundation.
The department employees three full-time officers and several part-time officers serving the communities of Preston, Lanesboro and Fountain.
Future goals include replacing some office computers, preparing for purchasing a new squad in 2024 and updating squad radars.
“We are continuing to look for part-time officers,” he said. “There is a real shortage across the state.”
The department will also participate in programming at the veterans home once residents begin moving in, providing onsite education regarding fraud and scam challenges for the elderly population.
As Kinneberg began her report, she stated, “There are good, exciting things happening in Preston.”
She noted several new businesses opening in the community as well as highlighting achievements in both the EDA and tourism areas of her employment.
The veterans home business has dominated her EDA tasks for 2022 and continues into 2023. The Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs has established offices in town and hiring has started for staffing needs at the new home.
Three new housing incentives and two rehabilitation housing incentives were created. New homes are being built in housing developments that have recently been platted and developed in different areas in town.
Kinneberg also noted that the city has applied for a Safe Routes to School grant to help overcome route barriers, such as highways and rivers, for children walking from their homes to the school.
In the Operation Spare Change Roundup, the Preston Lions Club was awarded $1,000 to help construct the 27-hole disc golf course. She also noted applications are being accepted as over $3,000 in funds are currently available to fund projects.
Goals for 2023 include working to expand the city’s industrial park, working to enhance childcare options and working with business owners to realize their own goals.
Putting on her tourism hat, Kinneberg highlighted marketing efforts for the city of Preston, including the creation and distribution of 11,000 visitor guides, print advertising in several local and regional publications, exposure through outdoor billboards, website promotion through Shrpa and digital banner ads and radio spots through Audacy.
The visitor center was open in 2022, May through October 14, seven days a week with two part-time staff and one volunteer.
An interesting stat to note regarding visitors to the website gethookedonpreston.com indicates a shift in age demographics from individuals aged 55 and older to the 35 to 44 age group.
Goals for 2023 include hosting community events like Trout Days and musical performances through Rhythm By The River this summer. Kinneberg also shared that she would like to see several signs updated throughout town.
In conclusion, she stated she is also looking forward to collaborating more with other communities to become a regional destination.
The Planning and Zoning Committee recommended rezoning the parcel of land where the veterans home is being built. The 16.6-acre site will be rezoned from R-2 (one or two-family residential) to R-3 (multi-family residential) which includes skilled nursing care. Throckmorton explained the requested rezoning is “in harmony” and “generally compatible” with the neighboring zoning parcels. He also said the proposed structure, a skilled nursing facility, is a permitted structure in the R-3 zoning designations. The council approved the rezoning.
The council also considered and approved a variance for the proposed maintenance building being built on the veterans home site. The structure is being built with a height of 17 feet. City code allows for a height of 12 feet, which is based on a calculation of eves and overall peak height. Throckmorton explained the Planning and Zoning Committee agreed the height would not affect other neighboring property owners. It was also recommended to allow the building as it is needed for the operations of the nursing home.
Preston Historical Society request
Sheila Craig, president of the Preston Historical Society, addressed the council as the organization sought support for the Historic Campus – Riverfront Masterplan project. The group is asking that the city serve as a fiscal agent for funds for the project.
She explained that the Historic Campus project includes a plan to complete the reconstruction of the historic Milwaukee elevator by adding on three missing components: the bagging shed, scale house and drive-through shed; and to develop a masterplan for enhancing the historic campus and riverfront area.
Since 2021, the historical society has received funding through a grant from the Southern Minnesota Initiative Fund as well as a grant from the Preston Area Community Foundation and donations through POET, individual donors and in-kind volunteer time.
A community survey on the project has been completed and a community engagement meeting has been held. The historical society has also created an educational video and a masterplan has been developed by consultants.
The purpose of the project is to elevate the trailhead area into a year-round regional attraction and a local activity center. The completed historic exhibit will also function as a visitor welcoming center and a community meeting and activity center.
In order for the organization to be able to seek bonding money or other government funds, it has been recommended that the city show support and indicate it would be willing to serve as a fiscal agent.
The council approved the request. Throckmorton told the council it would require some additional staff time for administration and reporting of finances, but that did not deter the council from acknowledging its support of the project.
In other business, the council approved a request from the EDA to set the revolving loan interest rate at .8 of the U.S. Prime Rate when the loan closing is set. Kinneberg explained the current interest rate on those types of loans was previously set at 2.5%. “This gives us a bit of reassurance that we are keeping up with the times,” she said. “We want businesses to have another option, but this keeps us up with what other communities are doing.”
The council approved the 2023 county ambulance subsidy agreement and approved the hire of Hope Bauman as a casual EMT.
The council approved insurance mandated write-offs for the ambulance service totaling $186,244.64 for 2022 and $6,410.84 for 2021. These are not collectible due to being insurance mandated write-offs, Throckmorton explained. The other write-offs totaled $29,756.57, which are written off for accounting purposes. He added the city continues to work on collection procedures for these accounts.
The council also approved fire department write-offs, totaling $1,821.12 from three uncollected accounts receivable. In these cases, the city also continues with collection efforts.
Katie Kerns was hired as the city custodian for 32 hours a week. It was noted there were nine qualified applicants, with three candidates being interviewed.
The city approved a $100 donation to the Fillmore Central Post Prom event.
The next meeting of the Preston City Council will be held on Tuesday, February 21, at 6 p.m., a day later than normal due to Monday, February 20, being Presidents Day.
Leave a Reply