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A leaner National Trout Center

Fri, Jul 19th, 2013
Posted in Preston Government

The Preston City Council at its July 13 meeting after a long discussion concerning the past and future of the National Trout Center voted to approve the revised, leaner budget for the center. Councilman David Harrison was absent. The NTC was founded in 2009 via a resolution passed by the EDA establishing the NTC.

Dan Christianson, board member and chief financial officer for the NTC, declared, “We made a mistake.” He admitted that taking the step to hire a full time person as the director of programs and operations may have been premature. Heath Sershen who has served in that position is actually a city employee. Christianson said we will have to take a couple of steps back in order to move forward.

Christianson encouraged the city council to help address the mistake and move forward toward a positive result for the community and the region.

NTC chairman George Spangler offered the revised budget for the rest of 2013. The board has been faced with a revenue shortfall. As of June 30 the city’s 251 account for the center shows a deficit of $2,947. He noted that the board of directors had met on July 11 and after considering options to reduce expenditures, the board recommended the termination of the director of programs and operations position effective at the end of July. The single largest expenditure for the center is the salary and associated benefits for this one full time employee.

Spangler explained that they had included in the revised budget the retention of communications officer Kathy Dahl at 12 hours per week. The center will be largely staffed during its hours of 10 am to 4 pm Thursday through Saturday by volunteers, the board of directors, and community volunteers.

Spangler referred to a chart that showed the increase of visitors to the center over the years since it opened. Last year there were a total of 887 visitors and this year there have been 1,226 to date. He said the board is prepared to write a check to the city for $5,000 to stay solvent in the month of July.

Mayor Kurt Reicks, referring to the NTC’s proposed revised budget, noted that it included a $11,900 deficit through the end of 2013 without any additional input from the city. He asked what it will cost the city to keep the center open until the end of the year. The answer was at best an estimate. If the NTC can realize its revenue estimates, the city will be kicking in an additional $10,000 over the $30,000 it already dedicated to the center. A large part of the projected future revenue is $6,500, which is to come largely from a fund raising raffle and dinner to be held this fall.

Councilman Robert Maust expressed reservations about the intertwining of the NTC business and the city. He said it has gained the 501(c)3 non-profit status and therefore could be doing its own accounting. Spangler noted if the NTC did functions like accounting or other services for itself, it would add to its expenses. If the NTC is successfully included in a future state bonding bill, then the city will be the fiscal agent and will have a fiduciary responsibility for the new permanent location of the NTC. Spangler insisted there is no benefit in separating the NTC from the city.

The next largest ongoing expense is the rent and utilities at the Buying Thyme building where the NTC is currently located. Two members of the board are looking into how that expense could be reduced. Spangler is part owner of the building.

Reicks said he personally supports the NTC. Councilman Charles Sparks made a motion to adopt the revised budget. Reicks seconded the motion. During the discussion that followed Christianson noted that a lot was accomplished during the first part of 2013, adding there are some positives. He stated that the board understands that the city’s dollars are limited, adding that with the revised budget there will be a substantial reduction in expenses.

Reicks insisted the center is a great addition to the community and brings people into the city. The vote on the motion failed with David Collett voting against and Robert Maust abstaining.

Maust wanted more clarification on what exactly the city’s obligation could be. Sparks said by adopting the revised budget, we want the city’s additional obligation to be held to $10,000 through the end of the year. During the extended discussion it was noted that the board of directors will be looking at other ways to trim the budget, which may include reducing the rent of the existing building and/or a possible reduction in hours of the communications officer.

City Administrator Joe Hoffman explained that from an accounting standpoint we are starting over. The center will have a part time crew with mostly volunteers and one part time employee.

A motion was made to adopt the revised budget with a possible revision in October. Christianson suggested that if the city is seen as supportive, it could help with [fund raising] efforts. Kay Spangler who volunteers at the center insisted that the center benefits Preston businesses by increasing the number of people that are coming into town. The motion was approved with a three to one vote. David Collett voted against.

A motion to terminate the NTC director of programs and operations position effective July 31 was approved.

Forestville Trail

A portion of the city council meeting was closed to discuss litigation strategy concerning the Ristau-Snyder lawsuit with the city attorney. District Court Judge Jeffrey Thompson recently handed down a decision which favors the landowners. He reversed his earlier ruling after the Court of Appeals remanded the case back to District Court. Thompson has now ruled that the section of the proposed recreational trail to Forestville State Park from Preston is not specifically authorized by current Minnesota Statute.

The council discussed their options with their attorney Dwight Luhmann, but no action was taken.

Other Business In Brief

• Nancy Harrison addressed the council about Goose Flat Park, insisting it “just needs a little love.” She would hate to see the park diminished saying it just needs some maintenance. She noted there has been some vandalism and suggested the police include it in their neighborhood rounds.

Hoffman said he did speak with Heath Mensink about the park. In Mensink’s opinion the plantings in the park are past saving. Harrison suggested that church youth groups, retired firemen, or other volunteers could do needed maintenance and clean it up. It was decided to let the Park Board discuss options at their next meeting.

• A resolution was adopted contingent on the city attorney’s review to adopt the policies and plans necessary for the Small Cities Grant. The city will act as legal sponsor for the project which includes single family rehabilitation and multi-family rental rehabilitation.

• Approval was given to upgrade the police department pistols. The Glock 22s are 20 years old. Four pistols will be upgraded with trade-ins for $149 each. One additional back-up pistol will be purchased for $409. The low quote total from KEEPRS METRO in St. Paul for $1,045.98 was accepted. The total cost will come from the Police Department’s forfeiture fund.

• Maust requested that city staff provide year to date budget numbers to the council. Hoffman and Sheila Marzolf agreed to work on that for next month.

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