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Harmony strives to add value

Fri, Jan 22nd, 2010
Posted in Progress Edition

Harmony's Ciy Administrator, Jerome Illg (left) is at the newest restaurant in town with owner Steve Larson. Quarter/Quarter opened for business in January. Photo by Jade Wangen

This past year was a busy one for the city of Harmony as they were involved in several projects aimed at improving the city. There are also some new businesses in town, as well as some projects planned for 2010 that are much needed.

Over the summer, the city gained a new parking lot in the empty area behind the bank downtown. At the same time the parking lot was constructed, the alley adjacent to it was fully reconstructed. The businesses in the downtown area have benefited from electrical upgrades in the area, including new lighting in the alley and parking lot.

City Administrator Jerome Illg said there is still an empty lot north of the parking lot that is available for commercial use.

In the spring, the city started a Commercial Rehab program. Illg explained that the city had expected revenues from TIF (Tax Increment Financing) District #1 of about $300,000. Half of the money in that pot went to the city and half to the EDA (Economic Development Authority). The EDA came up with a matching program.

"If a business wants to do things like replace windows, siding, do tuck pointing, electric or heating, they have an opportunity to use a portion of that money."

Illg said if a business owner has a certain amount of money to work with, they can get matching funds through this program. There are eligible uses for this money; that is, there are only certain things that a person can do with it. "The projects have to add taxable value to the property," said Illg.

There is a minimum of $1,000 and a maximum of $10,000 for each building. If a person stays in business for five years, the money does not have to be paid back to the city.

According to Illg, right now $47,000 of that money is obligated toward future projects. "It helps the local economy," he said.

Illg said Harmony's first TIF District, which includes much of the downtown area, was created in the 1980s, and the rules were much more liberal at that time. The money the city makes from that TIF District can be used for any project in town. The newer districts have stricter rules, and money must be used within the district.

"We're very fortunate to have that," commented Illg.

After doing a large amount of work to the Community Center building in 2008, the city replaced the tile floor of the gym in the building. They also did some maintenance work to the Visitor's Center building, such as repairing the roof, tuckpointing and painting that needed to be done.

As for 2010, there are several projects in the works. A new restaurant, Quarter Quarter, has recently opened where the Clover Art Gallery and Scandinavian Blomma used to be, with Steve and Lisa Larson the owners. There is also a major street repair project that will be under construction this summer. The section of 3rd Street southwest that goes from Main Avenue to the Community Center parking lot will be under total reconstruction.

Another project that will provide jobs and help the economy of the city is a meat locker that will be going up in the Industrial Park area. Michael Aggen is the owner of this new business, and will be starting construction as soon as possible in the spring.

As for the economy, 2010 is going to be a year of uncertainty and caution for most cities. Right now, nobody knows exactly what will happen at the state level, or what cities will be receiving for Local Government Aid (LGA).

"It's not a matter of if we are going to get cut, it's a matter of how much," said Illg. He added that Harmony was very fortunate to have a bond issue taken from their budget this year, which is money the city will not have to levy for in 2010.

"It gives us extra space to weather the LGA issue and help with projects," said Illg.

According to Illg, the city is being careful to set their budget so they keep taxes at a level playing field, instead of raising and lowering them over the years.

"If we didn't have the bond issues coming off, we wouldn't be talking about doing 3rd Street, and we might be cutting employee hours, and cutting some services," said Illg.

Despite the fact that Harmony, like many other cities, may not be getting the money they expect this year from the state government, they are prepared for the challenge that awaits them. The city is working toward sustaining the businesses they have, as well as bringing in new business and maintaining the services they have for the residents.

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