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Lanesboro City Council Report: Spotlight on Lanesboro’s Chamber of Commerce

Fri, Dec 5th, 2003
Posted in Features

“$1.5 million comes into Lanesboro each year through tourism.” This is just one of the facts Lanesboro Chamber of Commerce representatives Joan Ruen, Carla Noack, Lori Bakke, and Julie Kiehne shared with the Lanesboro City Council at their regular meeting December first.

Noack, the community initiatives chair, stressed that the chamber is composed of representatives from the city, school, and churches and seeks a broad range of input from throughout the entire community. She delineated the goals of the chamber which include maintaining a diversified business base, increasing affordable housing, and school enrollment, and maintaining at least three churches in the city.

Bakke, speaking for the business and promotion group, gave examples of promotions sponsored by the chamber, namely, the recent holiday open house, the lighting contest, Winter Fest, a possible Red Hat Society Convention in March, Scenic Byways in May, Buffalo Bill Days, and seasonal decorating in the downtown area.

Julie Kiehne, Executive Director of the Chamber, spoke of the comprehensive marketing in and out of the state. Kiehne emphasized the need to upgrade the website to provide pertinent information to people interested in relocating to the city. She informed the council that ten thousand visitors come to the visitor center each year, taking advantage of information resources and a one-stop lodging referral service provided there.

Kiehne, along with Holly McDonough and Ken Graner recently attended a seminar on how small towns survive through change and found that Lanesboro had many of the needed qualities for survival. Lanesboro has a rich history, varied cultural and art experiences, available recreation through the Root River and the bike trail, and a diverse business base.

Funding of the chamber is through membership dues, lodging tax, and grants to defray marketing expenses. Ninety-five percent of the lodging tax must be used for tourism promotion by state law.

Councilwoman Peggy Hanson asked Kiehne if she had statistics available on where people who live in Lanesboro work and how many jobs in the city are tourism related. Hanson noted there is a perception “that everything in Lanesboro is about tourism—that’s not all there is!”

Closing her presentation, Kiehne asked for input from the council and audience on improving communication between the chamber, the council, and the public. Mayor Steve Rahn asked for more handouts, Councilwoman Peggy Hanson suggested sending the entire council the chamber’s monthly newsletter, and Councilman Kevin Drake asked if the newsletter was available on the web. Kiehne responded that, while the newsletter was not currently on the web, it was coming in the future. Kiehne called for “support of a strong, growing business environment” from the council and urged the council to become more involved with the chamber.

2004 Budget

Commenting that most of the numbers in the budget were “pretty conservative,” City Administrator Bobbie Torgerson presented the proposed 2004 budget (general fund totaling $506,238) to the council. Local Government Aid (LGA) stayed at the same rate as 2003 ($232,294).

Councilwoman Hanson voiced her concern over the operating revenue of $31,614. The funds are intended as a cushion for unforeseen needs (i.e. equipment breakdown), but Hanson fears the state might perceive it as extra money and cut funding further. The council considered marking these funds for vehicle replacement for the ambulance and fire departments.

The street department showed a reduction of one full-time employee. Noting the city employees are great at helping each other, Bobbie Torgerson said she felt the cut would work out. The park department got by with a part-time employee reduction the past year. Thanks to help from volunteers and a dry summer, the job got done.

The council added a salt shelter for the street department to the budget. Another addition passed was the budgeting of $5,000 each for the future replacement of the ambulance and fire vehicles. Torgerson also suggested purchasing a used truck for the park department; the current truck has its fuel tank strapped on and rusty holes in the floorboards.

Councilman Jerome Halvorson questioned the salary costs at the library, stating that the public works department salaries were about the same with seven day a week service. City attorney Tom Manion pointed out the library was “pretty efficient” compared to others. Councilwoman Hanson added that the county wasn’t paying the rural patrons share, leaving the city with a larger share of the cost.

An audience member asked what the extra money raised by the increased levy would be used for, noting the street department position elimination and the raising of the budget eight percent with only two percent salary raises. Councilman Joe O’Connor responded that health insurance and utility costs for city-owned buildings have gone up. O’Connor also pointed to a $9,300 bond payment for the Coffee Street Bridge, nearly half of the $21,000 levy increase.

Other business

In other business the Lanesboro City Council:

• granted Councilwoman Peggy Hanson’s request to attend a Broadband Conference to be presented by the Blandin Foundation on strategies to increase the vitality of cities through high speed internet access;

• learned the spray park project has come to a standstill since the only bid for installation came in at $236,000, much more than expected;

• approved an audit agreement with Lloyd Johnson, CPA;

• heard the city’s new generator is installed and will be operating by month’s end with bonding for the generator yet to be done;

• were introduced to police officers Jessie Grabau and Blaise Sass by Preston Police Chief Matt Schultz. December 1 was the beginning of Lanesboro police coverage by the Preston officers.

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