At the February 5 meeting of the city council, City Administrator Ryan Throckmorton reported the city received $58,157 in December to be used for community engagement, mental health, training personnel and equipment needs. The funds are Preston’s portion of the $300 million in Public Safety Funding passed by the 2023 Minnesota legislature.
The funds will be used primarily for police, fire and EMS. This day the council approved the purchase of 40 ANCOM pagers for the fire department and EMS at a cost of $17,980. Due to an ANCOM promotion the city may be able to get about 50 pagers for that price.
Throckmorton detailed equipment needs for the police totaling $51,436.28 which include three toughbook computers, three portable radios, three Stalker radar units, and a squad camera. No action was taken on purchases of police equipment this day. The council is waiting for Public Safety Funding allocation decisions from Fountain and Lanesboro that could add to available funds for these purchases.
Annual Department Reports
Five department heads reviewed 2023 and reported on goals for 2024. Jim Bakken, Public Utilities, said they are continuing to work on upgrades for all services including electric, water, and sewer. They are still working on Automatic Metering Infrastructure (AMI) for water, while electric AMI is done.
Rate increases for 2024 include 3% for electric, 2% for water, and 6% for sewer.
DGR Engineering completed a study of the electric system in 2023. They noted there is some overloading in peak alert times. Improvements are needed and will be spread over 10-12 years at an estimated cost of $10 million.
The Wastewater Treatment Facility was built in the 1960s and was upgraded in 1985. In June 2023, first steps were taken toward major updates and improvements.
Later in the meeting, approval was given for a letter of support for an application to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Clean Water Revolving Fund, to get on the 2025 Wastewater Facility Project Priority List. Bakken noted that Stantec Engineering recommended the application. Stantec is doing a study and working on a plan, and this is a first step to secure state funding for major needed improvements to the facility.
Samantha Buley, library director, reviewed programs and events at the library in 2023. Community outreach will include the veterans home. Grants were used to purchase STEAM kits and to update the children’s corner. The Community Collaboration grant was used to interview 30 Preston residents. Goals for 2024 include a Story Boardwalk and growth of the homeschooling/STEAM collection.
Police Chief Blaise Sass noted purchases were limited in 2023 but did include new office computers. The purchase of a new squad pickup is anticipa9ted. One full-time new officer was hired, Gabrielle Kreidermacher. The Preston Police Department covers Preston, Lanesboro and Fountain. In 2024, the department wants to replace squad computers, portable radios, and squad radar units and also purchase a squad car camera. Sass added they plan to provide education to prevent successful fraud scams. Search will continue for part-time officers.
Deb Ristau, Preston EMS, explained there are now 24 EMTs and 20 First Responders. There were 358 calls in 2023. She displayed a chart showing the value of volunteer hours.
Fire Chief Ramon Hernandez reported they have 24 members. Two new members joined in 2023. They had 39 calls in 2023 and did 30 controlled grass burns which are good training for members. Members participate in classroom training. The department is committed to preserve life and property and to promote public safety. Goals for 2024 include safety of team members, training, and a review of equipment needs (radios and pagers).
Other Business in Brief
•Ambulance write-offs for 2023 ($137,242.65) and 2022 ($36,506.45) were approved as presented. The write-offs represent the funding gap between the ambulance service rates and that which private insurance, Medicare and Medicaid will allow for reimbursement for a call. Accounts receivable for 2022 in the amount of $29,263.94 were written off; the mostly uncollected debts are not forgiven, but for accounting purposes it is acknowledged that they are not likely to collect these funds.
•Five accounts receivable were included in the fire department write-offs for 2022 totaling $1,500. The city can still pursue collection of these debts.
•Approval was granted to put election judges on the city’s pay scale for hourly rates as recommended by staff.
•Sidewalk repair was requested by the Library Board on the area leading to the library’s stairs. A quote submitted by Storelee Cement & Masonry LLC in the amount of $2,527.50 was approved to remove and replace concrete.
•Approval was granted to donate $100 to the Post-Prom Committee.
•A write-off in the amount of $110 for Valley View Campground for advertising in the 2022 Preston Tourism Guide was approved. In the future businesses will be required to satisfy unpaid balances prior to future advertising.
•The ambulance subsidy agreement between the county and the city was approved. The county will provide a contract for each station, Preston and Lanesboro. The subsidy from the county is $6,000 for each station or a total of $12,000.
•The city council meets next on Tuesday, February 20.