At the July 20 Preston City Council meeting, the council voted for a second time to adopt the resolution Ordering Improvement and Preparation of Plans for 2021 Street and Utility Improvements. The first vote failed. This time, the project estimated to cost a little less than $4 million was ordered to proceed with a unanimous vote. A public hearing on the proposed project was held at the council’s July 6 meeting. The city’s portion of the estimated cost is about $2.7 million. The assessment portion is estimated to be just under $1 million.
Federal CARES Act Funding
The state will distribute $841 million of CARES Act federal funds to counties, cities, and townships. Preston’s portion of these funds is $100,127. A plan is being worked on for the use of these funds. The council authorized the submission of the certification to the state for the funds. The funds are to be expended by November 15 by the city. The use of the funds is to be limited to COVID related expenses or grants to small businesses affected by the pandemic.
Ambulance Director Ryan Throckmorton explained there have been unique challenges due to COVID. At first, call volume was way down, but lately there has been an increase in calls. Staffing has been the primary challenge. Six EMTs have been lost due to COVID and other factors. This has led to difficulties especially on weekends to fill on-call shifts.
Throckmorton suggested a pool of paid EMTs be created to cover these shifts. He proposed advertising to hire people living outside of Preston to create this pool. Throckmorton estimated that wages for the pool could cost $20,000 during the next five-month period. He intends to create a job description and a listing of responsibilities. Local EMTs could also be part of the pool. The sustainability of an all volunteer EMS has been on the decline. Throckmorton added classes are currently not available to train EMTs.
Preston currently has no housing available for out of town EMTs. He estimated housing costs could be as much as $5,000 through the end of this year.
Councilman Charles Sparks asked if some of the cost could be covered with CARES act funding. Throckmorton said that funding source may be able to cover a portion of the cost.
City Administrator Joe Hoffman said rural EMS is changing; COVID is just accelerating that change. The weekend staffing proposal was approved as presented.
In April an on-call stipend increase in the amount of $4 per hour was approved for hours over the required 60 hour minimum for May, June, and July. Throckmorton recommended extending that stipend increase through August 31. The increase will be paid for with additional grant funding received from the Minnesota Department of Health. The stipend extension was approved.
Other business in brief
•Sarah Bellefuil, deputy director Minnesota Housing Partnership, provided information related to an 18-month program which will be conducted remotely. Five teams from southern Minnesota consisting of five to 10 community members each will meet monthly. The teams will then meet together to participate in a workshop. They will be working on plans for potential development projects.
•Sheila Craig updated the council on activities of the Preston Historical Society. They are moving forward with the tractor ride for 2020. This is one of the society’s two fundraisers. Their other fundraiser, the raffle, was canceled this year.
The society applied for a Paint the Town grant. They have plans to repaint the roof of the caboose and the exterior of the school house. The windows in the caboose are to be replaced and the ceiling of the school house is to be fixed. Work is being done to organize artifacts. The annual appropriation in the amount of $3,000 for the historical society was approved.
•A John Deere skid loader was purchased in 2017 by the city, the utility, and the park board who split the $54,000 purchase price. Approval was given to transfer ownership of the skid loader to Preston Public Utility. The PPU will be responsible for maintenance and replacement of the skid loader and the backhoe/loader. The city will own and be responsible for maintenance and replacement of dump trucks. All three entities will continue to be able to use all of the equipment. This will simplify the process as all three entities will not have to approve the purchase or maintenance of each piece of equipment. The PPU and Park Board had already approved the arrangement.
•Hoffman led a discussion on the possible return to in-person meetings. The biggest obstacle is identifying a location that is large enough to allow for adequate social distancing for the council, staff, and public. The city’s council room does not have sufficient space. Technology issues will also need to be worked out for remote meetings.
•The next council meeting will be held August 3 and will likely still be a virtual meeting.