The Lanesboro City Council met Monday, July 1 and the meeting was standing room only as more than 30 residents filled the council chambers. Also present were Elaine Edwards, Economic Development Authority (EDA) Board President, of Bridid Tuck and Jennifer Hawkins, University of Minnesota Extension, who were on hand to discuss recent Senior Housing Impact study results.
The feasibility study commissioned by the EDA determined there was a need within the city for senior housing. A 2016 market study and additional data from Fillmore County were used in the UMN study, which detailed potential information, including economic and tax impacts. The city is considering a privately developed 22-unit assisted and independent living facility.
“There are benefits to Lanesboro in terms of economic development and tax base. It fits into your economy already,” said Tuck. In looking at the existing county economy, Tuck highlighted trade and healthcare as the first and second strongest job holdings. “Nursing and residential care makes up half. It would be building on strength for the community.”
In terms of direct construction impact, a $4.2 million facility would generate $1.4 million in labor income and creation of 30 jobs, a total of $5.4 million of economic activity contributed to the county over the one to two years estimated to construct the site. The projected impact to state and local taxes during this phase is $177,700, including $45,300 in property taxes. Once in operation, the facility is estimated to generate $116,600 annually in state and local taxes.
Taking a median cost per unit per month of $3,200, the facility would require $844,000 in annual operating revenue. $403,900 of that would be labor income for the employment of 13 people. Tuck noted this money, an estimated $1.1 million, would contribute to economic activity in the county in the form of real estate, utilities, wholesale trade, and business within the city, such as restaurants, banking, and more.
While the market study initially called for an 80-unit facility, the EDA targeted the more realistic facility size. Mayor Jason Resseman noted the facility would be a huge asset to the city with the added benefit of generated property taxes. Additionally, Councilor Chase Bakke suggested the residents moving to the facility could open up opportunities for others in the city.
The facility is still in the design phase. “We’re looking at is this a positive for community and this talks about the value and benefits of it,” added Tuck.
“It’s a need that’s growing. There’s support from community growing to match the need. I’m hearing more and more of a consensus that this is something we want to come to fruition as the right alternative for our community. I would personally like to see this continue, to keep this progression moving.”
The council also discussed allegations of misconduct by Lanesboro Public Utilities (LPU) Commission Member Don Bell. At the June 3 meeting, the council voted to notify Bell of the alleged misconduct via letter. Bell was present at the July 1 meeting. Mayor Resseman noted the meeting could be closed, but Bell asked that it remain open.
In summary of events, City Attorney Tom Manion noted commission members are subject to council authority, including any determined discipline. “This part isn’t to determine discipline, but to focus on what the claim is; to get to what concerns are,” said Manion. “It isn’t for Don having an opinion, but how he proceeded with concerns. It’s important to have all discussions open. The concern is Don didn’t come to council.” Manion also stated no one is questioning Bell’s commitment to the city, noting, “He’s dedicated, fair-minded, and thoughtful.”
Bell read a prepared statement to the council. In it he noted that with little background on a water treatment plant proposition, he made arrangements to meet with representatives from Bolton & Menk. The meeting was audio-linked to the City Clerk, Michele Peterson.
On May 9, Bell indicated he and two other LPU members attended a presentation by the Department of Natural Resources regarding new floodplain maps. “An official recommendation was made to avoid building critical infrastructure, like a wastewater treatment plant, in the floodplain,” he stated.
At the May 21 LPU meeting, with concerns over the proposed plant location in a floodplain, Bell made a motion to declare a moratorium on building until a more suitable site was found. Following the meeting, Bell stated he independently conversed with property owners regarding the proposed site. “I did not act as an agent of the city, nor did I make, accept, or attempt to sway property sales,” he said, before continuing with his concerns over the proposed site.
“So the commissioners understand, you are in a position of authority when you serve on these commissions. We want to make you aware of protocols,” said Resseman.
“When you go talk to some, they see you as a Utility Commissioner,” added Councilor Autumn Johnson. Michele [Peterson] is the face of the city. She’s the one people talk to. If you ever have any questions, go to her. You’re on LPU, but yet, it looks like you’re trying to acquire a property for the city.” There were no motions for any disciplinary action.
Prior to the meeting, several residents spoke in support of Bell and out of concern for the proposed plant site.
“A lot of people really respect you here in town. Your willingness to dig in, your civic mindedness, and your ability to engage in conversation are really appreciated by the citizens,” said an unidentified citizen.
“Why would you build a piece of critical utility on a sandbar, next to a river that floods? Communities have known not to put a big outhouse at the edge of town. You don’t put something like that on your doorstep. There’s not a lot of options, but we want to help you out of the corner you’ve painted yourself into,” he added.
“Would you really be okay with the sewer plant going in right next to your house? If we would have known in June, would there be any difference?” asked Mike Wanabaker. “This needs to be done somewhere. Why can’t it be looked at in other options? Why can’t you listen to the citizens. We do care a lot.”
“I’m for broadening the review of where the wastewater plant should go. I don’t know that all possibilities have been exhausted,” added Vicki Bartleson. “Do the right thing; make a difficult choice. To do that you need to consider the citizens, the DNR, and long-term climate change for citizens that will be living here in the future.”
“Look at what’s going on right now with our rain. This is happening all the time now. It’s nothing new and it’s getting worse and worse,” cautioned the owner of the Little River General Store. “The part you’re going to put this in is in the flood zone. You’re going to put $8 million in the flood zone. No one has said we don’t need this. We need to pay attention to what’s happening.”
In other news, the council heard from Ambulance Director Deane Benson. He indicated a dire need of people for the service and has suggested switching gears from recruitment to retention of personnel. Benson presented an incentive program developed with Clerk Peterson. Every six months, if first responders or emergency medical technicians work 48 hours of weekend on call time per month, 40 hours of work week in one month, and one holiday, they would be eligible for an extra $500 per pay period. It was proposed to begin July 1, being paid out in January. “It’s an incentive to keep the people,” stressed Benson.
Shortly, the Lanesboro Ambulance Service will have just 10 members. Should all 10 make the incentive target, it would cost the city $5,500 every six months. However, it was noted that not all would be able to commit to that much time. Peterson noted the money is available to fund the incentive. Ideally, Benson would like to see 20 on the service roster.
“I really think, if we start this incentive program, it’s going to pay dividends to people giving volunteer time,” he added. “We need to start something. We need to act or we’re going to be in trouble.” Benson noted that mutual aid is by contract only and that adding the incentive program is much cheaper than being forced to contract elsewhere. “We’ve had 45 calls already this year and tourism is not at a max yet. We average 100 calls a year. That’s a lot for our small community.”
The next regularly scheduled council meeting is Monday, August 5, at 6 p.m., in the lower level of the city hall building. Public comment time begins at 5:45 p.m. The public is encouraged to attend.