The City of Rushford is steadily crossing off steps ahead of its 2019 Street & Utility Improvement Project and the Lamplighters Lane Street Improvement Project. Several neighborhood meetings in the affected areas of East Grove Street, Walnut Street, North Burr Oak, and Lamplighters Lane. The winning bidder for the projects, Zenke, Inc. was approved by the city council at the Monday, April 8 meeting with a $1,435,210 bid.
While the multi-street project will be bonded for, using General Obligation Improvement & Utility Revenue Bonds at a recommended $1.825 milion, the Lamplighters Lane project will be paid for out of existing Capital Projects funds. David Drown Associates financial consultant to the city, Mike Bubany, was on hand at the meeting to clarify the details.
There will be one bond issued for the larger project, under two statutory authorities. Special assessments will be certified and do not equate to 20% of the total project cost. Utility costs will be separated from street costs to address the issue. Bubany noted this breaking out of costs is consistent with planning. Project plans include a 10-year term for the bonds. Rates are not yet locked in. Bidding for ends in May and the council is set to award the sale of the bond May 28.
The city has recently seen two existing outstanding bonds paid off and a 1999 PFA water bond will be ending, helping keep the debt per capita under the self-imposed threshold of $6,000. With this new bond, debt per capita will be $5,800.
Councilor Jim O’Donnell questioned whether upcoming mandated road projects would hinder the city’s project plans, affecting financial standing. “We knew we couldn’t go over $1.9 million because of other things. It’s why we scaled back,” clarified City Clerk Kathy Zacher.
With this bond, the city will also be seeking a rating through Standard and Poor’s. “In a bond this size, you’ll save tens of thousands of dollars,” stressed Bubany. Rushford currently has a A rating as of the last rating study. A+ is the highest rating a city the size of Rushford can achieve, without taxing its citizens heavily, noted Bubany. “It’s uncommon for a town of your size.”
After some digging following the meeting, Clerk Zacher was able to clarify the city had an A+ rating prior to the 2007 flood, with a high level of reserve funds and lower debt. The rating was then downgraded in 2011 after reserves had been spent down and the city’s economy was recovering. “In the past few years we have made a concerted effort to increase our reserve funds going from 28% in 2013 to 91% in 2017. There are many factors that go into the rating and many criteria used by the firm to determine our ‘credit worthiness’; cash on hand, debt, liabilities, economy of the community, economy of the area, income levels of community, housing, tax base, budget flexibility, liquidity and so forth,” said Zacher. The city is hopeful it can regain the A+ rating for this and future bonds.
Derek Olinger, Project Engineer, from Bolton & Menk, was also on hand at the meeting to answer any questions. He noted meetings with residents to set the stage for how things will go during the projects. There is no official detour planned for Prairie Street, along the area of construction, even with traffic from the school just down the road. Instead, the intersection of Grove and Prairie Streets is to remain open as much as possible. Olinger noted there will be advanced warning signs regarding the area.
In other news, new Library Director Beth Nelson, along with Library Board Member Burt Svendson, presented the annual Library Report summary to the council. The report is mandated by the state.
In 2018, the library was open 200 hours more than the previous year, but visitor traffic is down. It’s assumed that the absence of the school no longer across the street has played into the number of visitors. Nelson wasn’t sure what could be done to pick numbers up during the school year, but noted she’s now seeing more visitors with the warmer weather. “It used to be pick-up spot for kids after school,” she said. “It will come back this summer. I’ve been able to talk with students.”
In-house collection is up 1,000, email collection up 4,000, and checkouts on both e-materials and inter-Selco loans continue to climb. Nelson is in the process of removing items that haven’t been used in three years. “[Former Director] Susan has done this all through the years,” she said. “it’s just time again.”
“Beth has been on the job a little more than a month and she’s still smiling,” chimed in Svendson. “We took that as a good sign.”
The council also reviewed a request from Public Works to rehire Ricky Buchanan as a part-time seasonal employee. The high school junior was employed part-time by the city in 2018 to assist with mowing and other tasks. Public Works Director Roger Knutson is working to develop schedule for seasonal needs.
Plans for a Minnesota Department of Transportation speed study on the Highway 43 corridor near the Ben Niggle Athletic Complex, planned for this week, is on hold due to recent winter weather. Traffic tubes to count passing vehicles will be set up April 15. They will count vehicles, noting whether or not it is passenger or commercial. Additional cameras for pedestrian traffic will also be in place. The study is needed to backup the city’s request to review, and potentially reduce, the speed in the area near the new school.
The next regularly scheduled meeting is Monday, April 22, at 6:30 p.m., at city hall. The public is encouraged to attend.