After a long discussion during the Preston City Council’s September 3 meeting, the council voted to cancel the 2019 Street and Utility Improvement project.
A resolution was adopted by a 3-2 vote at the last meeting accepting the bid submitted by Rochester Sand and Gravel. It was the only bid submitted and over $100,000 higher than the engineer’s estimate. The entire project would have cost $582,618. This total included contingency and engineering funding and sidewalk, curb work to be done by Legends Concrete.
Mayor Kurt Reicks and City Administrator Joe Hoffman felt they should reconsider spending over a half million when only three members approved the project. City Engineer Brett Grabau noted Legends Concrete was willing to do the work or walk away.
Hoffman reviewed other options, which included rolling the planned 2019 work into a $2 million or $5 million project in 2021. He suggested a $2 million project could be funded through city cash, utility cash, and a $1.3 million bond to be paid over 15 years. The payments could be funded by decreasing the Street Improvement Fund without additional levy dollars.
A $5 million project would use the same inputs, but also require $140,000 in additional levy dollars to make bond payments (a 15% levy increase). The additional levy dollars could be reduced if the Street Improvement Fund was dropped to $30,000. Reicks maintained if that fund was dropped to that level, the city will again face what we are now, streets which have not been sufficiently maintained to extend their life.
Councilwoman Holly Zuck said she was not in favor of a $5 million project, as we will not be able to grow this community if we have the highest property taxes in the region.
Councilman Robert Maust explained he voted against the higher than expected bid because constituents that would have had to pay 25% more in assessments had not been notified. Councilman Charles Sparks said if you expect everyone to approve their assessment, you won’t fix any streets. Reicks commented, I’m glad we are rethinking it; it will probably cost the same next year. Grabau said costs will likely go up, but there may be some savings with a larger project.
Zuck said she could support a $2-$3 million project. Grabau said the best option would be to bump the project to the spring of 2021. Zuck made the motion to rescind the motion to proceed with the 2019 Street and Utility project. It was approved 4-1, councilman David Collett voted no.
There was more discussion about whether to plan a $2-$3 million project for 2020 or 2021. Maust argued for doing a project in 2020. Zuck said she would not vote in favor of a 2020 project. Reicks said we need to get some financial advice from Bubany as to how the project will affect taxes and our constituents.
A motion was made and approved to consult with Mike Bubany to create a finance plan for a larger project. Maust and Collett voted no.
Solar zoning ordinance
Hoffman explained there has been interest from several parties in larger scale solar energy projects. On August 28, Planning and Zoning reviewed a draft ordinance and adopted it after making some changes. The ordinance will allow roof-top solar systems in all zoning districts, as well as ground-mounted systems up to 5kW. Ground-mounted systems can only be installed in rear yards.
Tim and Hunter Johnston want to build a 39.9kW ground-mounted system on property they own near the mobile home park. It would be on a dead end street and surrounded by trees on three sides.
The draft recommended by P & Z would not allow ground-mounted systems larger than 5kW on property zoned R-2. Hoffman noted the system planned by Johnston would not be allowed on his property unless he could get it rezoned to R-1 (Agricultural) or I-1 (Industrial).
A resolution was adopted approving the ordinance as presented and as recommended by P & Z. Collett voted no.
Hoffman presented a discussion draft of the 2020 budget. The current proposal will require a 4.57% levy increase. Local Government Aid in 2020 will be $489,120. This represents a $1,678 increase in LGA. LGA has been relatively flat for several years prior to this one. A 1% increase in the levy represents about $9,500.
Cost increases are, in part, driven by health insurance (up 6.5%) and salaries (up 2.5%). Other increases in costs include ambulance (per capita increase), office equipment, election expenses, and fire department and police department expenses.
The total preliminary levy could be $985,130 or $43,084 more than in 2019. The preliminary levy will need to be adopted by September 30.
Other business in brief
•Gideon Prudoehl was introduced by Chief Blaise Sass. Mayor Reicks administered the oath of office to Prudoehl.
•Mike Eickhoff and Brenda Lloyd, owners of the Sweet Shop and Sandwich Shoppe, asked to purchase a 10-foot by 22-foot piece of city owned parking lot located behind their business. The EDA recommends the sale. There will be a loss of one parking spot behind the building.
Eickhoff said they want to install an 8-foot by 12-foot walk-in freezer. It would eliminate the need for three freezers inside their building. The freezer would only be accessed from inside their building.
The council approved the sale at a cost of $1 per square foot or $220. The buyer will be responsible for any necessary title work and any costs associated with the sale. The sale includes a condition that the property be built on and made a part of the existing business. Another condition of the sale is that a rear setback variance be satisfied by P & Z.
•A request from Jerry Armstrong for a driveway access to his side yard off Washington St. NW was approved. The driveway will allow access to a garage in his side yard.