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Lanesboro City Council Report: Center for the Arts project up in the air again


Fri, Mar 21st, 2003
Posted in Features

The Lanesboro City Council clearly illustrated the need for an odd number of council members at their meeting Monday, March 17 as they attempted to deal with the Lanesboro Center for the Arts (LCA) project.

On March 3, a proposal to let the Commonweal Theatre Company and Cornucopia Art Center to take over the Lanesboro Center for the Arts with the EDA monitoring the city’s role in the public/private partnership was referred to the EDA for consideration.

On Monday, a motion to table the issue further because Council member Jerome Halvorson was absent failed with a 2-2 tie vote. Discussion followed.

Council member Peggy Hanson reported that while the EDA had voted in favor of undertaking the oversight of the LCA project and continuing with the public/private teaming on the project, Hanson personally recommended rescinding the city’s motion from a year ago to continue the partnership. In a two-page letter to fellow council members, Hanson detailed her reasons for her position.

These reasons included:

• neither Cornucopia or Commonweal requested continued city involvement;

• the Art Center Project would continue regardless of city involvement as a private venture;

• the partnership would bring "unnecessary additional responsibilities" for the city;

• public dollars are needed more in other budgetary areas during this tough economic time; and,

• the LCA will continue to have broad community support either way.

Hal Cropp, Director of the Commonweal Theater and former councilman, stated that the need for such an organization would not go away. He added the arts organizations were looking to the city to make a decision and commitment to the arts by backing this project. Pointing out the minimal risk for the city, Crop encouraged the councl to, "leave the door open to allow for the use of the state’s million dollars."

Councilman Joe O’Connor, a former member of the LCA board, said that he believed the project had a higher probability of going forward as a private venture because of the city’s limited resources.

Concurring with O’Connor, Hanson stressed the city’s need to maintain infrastructure and to keep taxes low. Hanson believes doing so will provide the atmosphere to encourage the arts and projects such as the LCA.

Cropp questioned spending EDA money and time on Preston Specialties Incorporated, but not on the LCA. He pointed out that the Commonweal Theater is the next largest non-governmental, non-school business in Lanesboro. Cropp reminded the council of the million-dollar bond’s expiration date (February 2005) and encouraged timely action.

A motion to rescind the council’s March 4, 2002 decision to support the LCA project failed with another 2-2 vote, with O’Connor and Hanson voting for the city to pull out of the project and Council member Kevin Drake and Mayor Steve Rahn voting for continuing.

The council plans on re-addressing the issue at their April 7 meeting. This lead to another motion to table the issue until Councilman Jerome Halvorson returns next month. Finally, the council passed that motion and tabled the LCA project.

Public Utilities

Kevin Drake reported to the council the possibility of the Public Utilities purchasing a used engine for generating electricity. The used engine would cost close to $160,000 less than the new one being considered and would come with a five year warrantee (compared to a ten year warrantee on a new one). Drake informed the council the Public Utilities Commission is still working on the amount of money for which to bond and what to adjust the rates.

EDA grants and position

Councilwoman Peggy Hanson, reporting on the EDA, told the council of a survey done by Linda Grover of Southeastern Minnesota Development Corporation. The EDA recommended applying for a Community Development Block Grant, a grant for low and moderate-income housing. With a maximum grant of $1.4 million possible, the council decided the grant was worth the cost of applying and authorized no more than $3,000 be spent for the application process.

The grant could potentially be used for refurbishing approximately ten homes at around $25,000 each or could be used for addressing code violations of downtown buildings. Since public utilities is also a part of it, some of the monies could go toward the electric plant.

Hanson commented, "This would be an incredible amount of money if we are successful."

Mayor Rahn concurred, "It’s worth going after."

Hanson also reported that the EDA recommended continuing with the creation of a two-year independent contractor position with the city paying $15,000 and the school paying $20,000 of the expense. Lanesboro School Superintendent Rick Lamon commented from the audience that it was good to see the city, the Chamber of Commerce and the school all working together. Hanson said she had voted against such a recommendation in the past because of budget concerns and questioned where the council would find the money for this in their budget.

Councilman Joe O’Connor mentioned that previously the council had stated that money from the sale of the medical building would be used. Hanson responded that some of the money was already earmarked for the walking bridge. Hanson urged the council to look at its financial commitments. O’Connor pressed for a decision within thirty days and agreed to bring the funding of the EDA position to the Chamber of Commerce first before the council addressed it at its next meeting.

The meeting was closed to discuss the Small Cities Grant Repayment and the status of part-time police officer Mike Cherney.

Wanda Hanson can be contacted at news@fillmorecountyjournal.com

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