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Lanesboro City Council discusses budget

Fri, Aug 8th, 2014
Posted in Lanesboro Government

Lanesboro City Administrator David Todd presented the council with a preliminary budget for 2015 at their meeting on August 4. He figured out what they spent to date and estimated that if things stay the same the rest of the year, there will be a 2.8 percent increase in the levy for 2015. He added that financial advisor Mike Bubany recommended they increase the budget 3-4 percent each year.

According to Todd, the tax base may increase due to new construction in town, which would make the increase less.

Councilor Tom Smith said he would like the council to sit down with the department heads and go over their budgets with them. He would like to find areas in which they can cut expenses.

“Taxes are high, utility rates are high,” said Smith. “We’re keeping people out of town.”

Todd brought up the auditor’s comment from last month about having low reserves. Right now the city has 26 percent of their general fund set aside for reserves, which is lower than it has ever been.

“The only way to increase that is to have a cushion built into the line items,” said Todd. He said there was an additional $40,000 in the street fund that was not used a couple of years ago, so it was put in reserves, where it was used the next year when it was needed. He said the department heads are careful not to spend money in the budget unless it is needed.

Todd said Lanesboro didn’t raise their levy for four years, and then last year they had to catch up with a big increase. “If we raise it nominally we won’t have to do that.”

He said he would speak with the department heads about meeting with council members about their budgets.

Church Hill Parking Lot

Dan Anderson approached the council with quotes for asphalt to blacktop the parking lot at Church Hill Condominiums. The lowest quote he got was for $3,600.

“Now the question is do we want to do that? Do we want to spend the money at all?” asked Mayor Steve Rahn. His concern was whether or not it would benefit the city.

Anderson said it’s a city street, with the city responsible for 75 of the cost of upkeep. They have put in a curb, and would be willing to pay 25 percent of the cost of blacktop. He said it’s used by the church, it’s a public street, and he would like to keep it that way.

Todd said he had heard concerns from a resident about the city spending money on the parking lot when there are alleys and streets in dire need of repair. “It does raise a valid question,” said Todd. “The root of the issue is who does it benefit? The city or a private party.”

Anderson did not understand why the city wouldn’t want it paved, as it’s a street that it used by the public. He said it has been gravel for six years.

Councilor Ceil Allen agreed there are many other street problems with higher priority right now.

“We brought 15 homes into this community,” said Anderson. “We’ve done our part.”

Councilor Tom Dybing said the off-street parking that he is required by ordinance to provide to his residents must be on his property. These parking spaces are partially on city property. Anderson said he did that intentionally, as he didn’t want the church to lose their parking spaces.

Todd believed it was a shared issue with the church and Anderson, and isn’t something the city needs to get in the middle of. “What it boils down to is that we would be spending money on joint parking for you and the church,” he said. He believed they would have irate residents if the city spent $6,000 on a parking lot with so many other areas that need work.

Mayor Rahn commented Anderson should have gone ahead with his original street vacation plans. Anderson said he may still do that. There would then be a public hearing.

Public Utilities

Theresa Coleman from the Public Utilities Commission told the council they are continuing to work with the engineer of the water project on Residential Equivalent Units (REU). As part of the requirements for the PFA funding, the city must come up with the most equitable way to charge for water usage.

According to Coleman, the formula they are working on takes the average residential water usage and labels that 1 REU. Everything else is then based off that. If a resident uses twice that amount, that would be 2 REU. This will be applied to commercial businesses as well, although the minimum would be 2 REU. The base charge for water will be determined by this REU.

“It’s a way for water users to participate in the bond repayment,” said Coleman.

Each year the REU would be re-established based on average water usage for the year.

“It’s a way to shift the burden of payment to higher water users,” said Todd. He added residential users may see savings on their bills. This is a formula that has been used by many other cities.

Smith asked Coleman if they had discussed charging Mediacom a pole fee for using the poles in the city. Coleman said they have decided not to pursue it at this time. Smith felt they should be charged if they are using city poles. He mentioned the cellular companies paying to use the water tower.

Todd said he has found that when a company is charged a pole fee, they tend to pass that cost along to the customers, and the customers end up paying the fee. The amount of money the city would receive would not be significant.

Smith also asked if the city was able to look at the Public Utilities budget before it was approved. Coleman said they could look at it anytime. The council, however, can give no input. City Attorney Tom Manion said the Public Utilities Commission has jurisdiction over their own budget. It’s different for them because they do not rely on property taxes to operate.

Coleman said anyone is allowed to attend the Public Utilities meetings and share their thoughts and ideas.

Hoot on the Root

Patrick Danz of the Slant Avenue Mercantile asked the council for approval of a musical event happening October 10-12. Hoot on the Root will take place at the Smokey River BBQ and will include a lot of local bands, live artwork, dancing, food, and beer. He said it will be very family oriented. Barbecue will be sold from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Danz said he has gotten a lot of local businesses to sponsor the event. The Winona Brewing Company and Schell’s Brewing Company will be having beer tents, the Sheriff’s department will have extra patrol, and IDs will be taken at the gates with wristbands given to people 21 and older.

Danz asked for a variance on the noise ordinance, as he would like to have the live music going until midnight. Rahn told Danz he will need to get a temporary on-sale permit from the city for the alcohol. He will also have to talk to all of the neighbors about the noise. Danz said he only has one person left to speak to.

The council approved the event.

Park Board

Todd mentioned some issues with parking at the Bass Pond. He would like to relocate the Root River Outfitters trailer and the other people using it to make room for parking. He mentioned getting the businesses together with the Park Board to discuss other options. He said parking near the ball field would work if they exercise caution when coming in and out.

The council approved selling the skate park equipment. It is not being used, and the council felt it would be good to use that space for other projects.

DNR Lease

The issue of the DNR’s lease at the Chamber of Commerce building has been going on for a few months now. At the last meeting, the city came with a counter-offer for the DNR. They accepted the offer of per square foot, but proposed some amendments. The council approved the contract.

Smith asked how much utilities cost in that building, as the city will be responsible for that. Todd said the entire building costs $1,700 per year, and the DNR’s share is half. The lease will be $1,600 a year.

Commonweal Request

Adrienne Sweeney spoke to the council on behalf of the Commonweal Theater regarding the play Around the World in 80 Days. According to Sweeney, it has turned out to be hugely popular among children. They would like to promote the play in areas where children spend a lot of time, and that includes Another Time Ice Cream Parlor. The theater would like to have a sandwich board placed against the fence there so it is not in traffic, and they would like to have it there Saturday and Sunday mornings through September. The council approved.

Parks/Street Superintendent

The council accepted the resignation of Andy Drake from his position of Park Superintendent Position. He will continue to hold the position of Street Superintendent, with a decrease in pay. The resignation is effective August 8.

Todd said there is internal interest in the position of Park Superintendent. He is going to revisit the pay scale for that job and offer it to that person.

Water Run-off Issues

There have been many water run-off issues in town, especially with the amount of rain this summer. The alley behind the Red Hotel has been having problems, but Dunn Blacktop Company will not fix the blacktop due to the steepness of the hill. The city is going to try patching certain areas to divert the water.

With other complaints that have been made, Todd decided to get Manion’s opinion. He asked him to come up with a document outlining exactly what the city can do to help with the issues. Todd can use this as a guide to refer to when speaking with residents.

Other Business

A quote from Dunn Blacktop Company for blacktop on DuPont Street was approved, at a lower cost than originally planned.

Courtney Bergey from the Lanesboro Arts Center said there will be a gathering on September 13 to thank the community for their support of the Arts Campus Project. It will be from 2-5 at the Bass Pond. They will be sectioning off 6-8 parking spaces for a band to perform.

Chamber of Commerce Director Dee Slinde said she received compliments from people stating the public restrooms were very clean and nice during Buffalo Bill Days.

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