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Peterson approves County 25 agreement, ponders future of school

By Kirsten Zoellner

Fri, Aug 15th, 2014
Posted in Peterson Government

The city of Peterson continues preparations for the reconstruction project of County 25, scheduled to begin in 2015. A preliminary feasibility report gave the city a taste of project figures and requirements, but further analysis has provided better insight into the scope of the project, including what the county will fund and what will be solely city cost.

David Strauss, senior project engineer at SEH-Yaggy, was on hand at the Wednesday, August 13 city council meeting and presented a cooperative agreement between the county and city. “The project is progressing. This is my two cents on this agreement; everything appears to be in line.” Strauss also noted the biggest change to updating the feasibility report has been the addition of the formal assessment policy. Figures have been gradually adjusted as bid prices are coming in and funding options are being reviewed. As it currently stands, roughly $70,000 could be generated for the project by property owner assessment. Road, curb, and gutter are currently $6.54 per linear foot of property, while sidewalk rates are assessed at a different value. No assessments are being applied along the southern portion of the project, along Church Street, as there will be no curb and gutter, just roadway.

The water main upgrades under the Mill Street portion of the project will also see work while the roadway is disrupted. According to Strauss, service main to the property, is 100 percent assessable to the property, since it directly benefits it.

The only thing not currently figured into the report is any upgrades to roadway lighting that the city may want to make. The city has considered upgrading wiring and conduit to city lighting during the project. “This is a good opportunity for the community to do any replacement or updating of infrastructure when you can,” added Strauss. “My recommendation, if you find out Church Street water is under the roadway, this would be the time to do it so you don’t disrupt the roadway again.”

Sidewalks along Church Street are still one catch point in the project. The city has heard that sidewalks along the west side of the road, currently buried under inches of sod, will be replaced. However, Strauss noted that the county cannot proceed with sidewalk reconstruction on the street if the existing sidewalks reside within private property lines, as they currently appear to. “The base mapping is only approximate, but usually the county’s GIS system is fairly accurate.” Further determination of where the right of way lies along the roadway would need to take place before the county can move ahead with reconstructing the sidewalk. “We really need everyone’s cooperation or it isn’t going to work,” added Strauss, discussing what happens if the sidewalks lie on private property. “It has to be in the right of way. If not, it’s probably going to be a city-funded project.”

The project schedule will give the city time to delve into details. The city has approved the changes to the feasibility report, entered into agreement with the county, and scheduled a public hearing regarding the project for September 10, at 7 p.m., at city hall.

Another key issue facing the city is the upcoming bond referendum for the Rushford-Peterson School District. Following the December 2012 referendum, which was denied by voters, the district Superintendent Chuck Ehler had said he’d gleaned several things from the process including the need to keep the Peterson facility open. Currently, the elementary and high school grades utilize the Rushford facilities, while the Peterson facility operates as a middle school.

At the council meeting, Ehler and school board chair John Linder were on hand to discuss recent changes to debt equalization from the state and the effect it has on the district’s facilities plans. Also presented was documentation from the 1990 consolidation of the districts. In those documents, the site was divided into three parcels with specific rights to each. Should the district choose to lease or sell Parcel 3, which includes the building, the city has the option to purchase Parcel 2 for $100. That parcel includes the property south of the building and east of the park. At that time, the district’s interests in Parcel 1, the west and park area, terminates.

“We are moving forward with a referendum for an early childhood-12 facility,” noted Ehler. “What we gleaned from 2012, through feedback, was that people wanted a one and done project.” At that time, the district had been considering a $15 million early childhood-grade 5 facility. Now, new debt equalization legislation makes the district eligible to potentially see 55 percent funding from the state for the proposed $38 million project. Should the referendum succeed, the district would construct the new facility in Rushford, at a site adjacent to the current athletic complex, and close the Peterson school.

Mayor Jennifer Wood questioned Ehler on the debt equalization policy, following a recent discussion with a policy specialist for the state. “You said, or I heard, that the state would pay for one school only, but the state has no policy of that.”

“Debt equalization was written for one facility,” responded Ehler. “This is an opportunity to move the district ahead, long-term.”

“Do you have plans for the building in Peterson?” asked Councilor Gail Boyum.

“No,” Ehler responded. “The city of Rushford is in a similar predicament and has secured an architect familiar with restoration of buildings with historic value. The majority of the board takes the position that it’s a community asset. We hope, as a community, you know that the district is willing to work with the city to repurpose the facility. Don’t look at it as a negative. It could be positive. It’s a nice facility. We ask you to work with the district as well.”

The council proceeded with several questions for the district before it was opened up to the public in attendance for comment.

“What’s going to happen it if fails?” asked Don Boyum. “I already talked to a guy who said I should sell my farm and move away. With talk like that, there’s no way I would support it. People have to know.”

Ehler noted that should the referendum fail, the board, which would include three new members in next January after this November’s election, would come together and do an analysis. “Here’s the thing,” added Linder, “The state kicks in 55 percent.”

“That’s not guaranteed,” added Boyum.

“No, that’s not,” answered Ehler. “Here’s what would happen. The state agreed to kick in ‘x’ number of dollars. We would go back with another plan. Something has to be done. For what you’re getting, the value the school is getting is second to none. This is going to make us sustainable district moving forward.”

“You’re representing the people. We have to know what you’re going to do,” echoed Boyum.

The state has determined how property is taxed for schools and the district is subject to those determinations. “The bond is more, but more is coming from the state. The impact is going to be relatively the same,” said Linder, referencing the $15 million vs. $38 million projects.

“You have an opportunity in front of you that only one other district in the state has,” added Ehler.

“But we’re going to be deeper in debt,” noted Boyum.

“Not really,” responded Ehler. “You’re going to address an issue and make the district more sustainable.”

“And what if the state pulls one and doesn’t provide the funding, like they did a few years back?”

“It’s a bond issue and right now, it’s cheap,” noted Linder. “The state has promised to repay. If the state pulls the pin, it would send the cost of the bond through the roof and I don’t think the legislature would do that.”

“We want you to be assured that we’re willing to work with you if the bond referendum is successful on how you want to utilize the facility, move forward. We’re aware of the sensitivity and sense of loyalty to Peterson,” added Ehler.

“In order for people to vote, they need a vision for what could happen. What I’m gathering from the board is that it’s a community asset. I worry about that. I don’t want a vacant property,” stated Councilor Gail Boyum. “You said you wouldn’t come to us about Peterson, so we never thought about it. We need more time.”

Due to the length of the agenda, the city opted to end the discussion with the district at that point of the meeting in favor of discussing at a later date.

Length and bulk of the city’s meetings have been recurring issues, with the city having just one council meeting per month. The council voted to change the meeting schedule to include a second meeting each month. The council will now meet the second and fourth Wednesday of each month, at 7 p.m., at city hall. The public is encouraged to attend.

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