The Houston City Council met at Houston City Hall for their regular meeting at 6 p.m. on Monday, September 11, 2017. In attendance were City Administrator Peterson, Mayor Olson, and council members Knutson, Sanden, Krage, and Schutte. Following the Pledge of Allegiance, the council opened the meeting to a period of public comment, of which there was none. Next, the council heard from Cindy Viste, who produced paperwork for the council regarding a Small Cities Development Grant in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED). Viste produced several completed documents for the housing rehab section of the grant, and told the council she could start surveying Houston residents “pretty soon,” but cannot close any loans until official approval from the state is given. Viste said the approval could happen as early as late September, as long as DEED has no comments on the submitted paperwork. The council then unanimously approved a resolution to approve the submitted paperwork.
The council next heard from Ryan Streff speaking on behalf of Mobilitie Small Cell Technology. Streff presented information on a pending agreement with the city that would construct a 50-foot-tall tower near the Houston Fire Department that would boost signal for Sprint cell phone and data users in the city. Streff cited several figures in his presentation, noting that the use of data is set to increase by 500% by early 2020. According to Streff, businesses like Mobilitie can provide “additional data services” to meet the demand. Streff told the council that Mobilitie is still waiting on some surveys and construction drawings to present to the council and city attorney before the agreement can be finalized.
Next, the council discussed the preliminary 2018 city budget and tax levy. Both will be finalized in December, but the tax levy cannot be raised, only lowered, between now and the December approval of a final budget and levy. Peterson presented three levy options to the council of an increase of .6%, 5% and 9.5% over the 2017 numbers. Peterson noted that a 5% increase for a $100,000 house would amount to roughly $40 to the property taxes. One of the main discussions regarded the hiring of a city accountant to replace the outgoing Finance Director Larry Jerviss at the end of this year. A 5% increase would allow for a part-time accountant at 25 hours a week, but Peterson mentioned that the 9.5% option was raised to also allow for more community outreach and increased services from the city office including talking with citizens before issuing citations. The total levy amount under this plan comes in at $497,090, which council member Sanden remarked works out to “a little over $3.00 a month.” Sanden also said the amount was “minimal” when looked at respective to the scope of services offered by the city. Peterson noted to the council that the city’s Budget Committee had also recommended the 9.5% option to be approved for the preliminary levy. Following a question from Mayor Olson, Peterson mentioned that last year saw an increase of 4% to the levy due to an increase in the overall tax base, which meant some citizens saw an actual decrease in taxes. Peterson explained that the “we [the city] want to do a good job and answer people’s concerns” and doing so required the recommended levy amounts. The council vote unanimously to approve both the preliminary budget and levy.
As council member and Park Board President Schutte had to leave, the council quickly discussed the possible construction of volleyball courts at the city’s Bluffview Community Park on the east end of town. Schutte expressed his approval of the project, which would put sand volleyball courts to the east of the city’s softball fields. There was also talk of organizing volleyball leagues and supplying lights to the area, which would also reduce costs for the city to bring lights to the nearby city welcome sign. One estimate for the volleyball lights came in at $3,200, and a previous estimate to light up the welcome sign was quoted at $2,500. The group looking to install the courts is looking to do so at no cost to the city, working through a sponsor for the project. The group wanted the council’s blessing before proceeding with the plan, and the council unanimously approved the plan pending the approval from city Park and Rec.
The city also discussed the city’s property and liability insurance renewal and granted a liquor license for the local Legion at the annual Taste of the Trail event on September 23. The Houston City Council will meet next at 6 p.m. on Monday, October 9, 2017, at Houston City Hall.