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Rushford City Council "takes a stab" at a community center


Fri, Aug 14th, 2009
Posted in Government

At the Monday, August 10th meeting of the council, the city made the decision to move forward with plans to seek out proposals on the construction of a 400-seat community center. On a limited budget, the city is offering grant funds of $593,000 for the project. The funds were given by FEMA for the replacement of the Ellen Tenborg Center, which was damaged in the 2007 flood.

Knowing that it's a tall order to meet city specifications with the available funds, the council tossed around incentive ideas that will likely favor the developer. Included in the ideas was the developer gaining management of the building after a 20-year time period to offset costs incurred and seeking out "a way to make it as tax friendly as possible to the developer."

Councilor Robert Dahl was concerned with the viability of a community center and noted comments he'd heard about loss of revenue on a similar structure in nearby Caledonia. Clearly agitated, Mayor Les Ladewig snapped, "We keep bad-mouthing Caledonia and hearing that the downtown is going down the drain, and it's not true." Unfortunately, there were no figures available at the time of the meeting as to the costs be incurred at the center, but no doubt the city will be gathering such information as they move along in the process.

A hesitant councilor, Larry Johnson, wondered about the option of a city-run building in the Darr lot directly west of the municipal liquor store. He also had some concerns over what would happen if no private developers stepped forward with a proposal for the center.

City Administrator Windy Block responded, "It costs approximately $20,000 per year to run the Tenborg Center; this would obviously cost more. There, we'd have all the risk. We're trying to keep our known exposure at a low level. We're looking for a private developer to ante up because they believe there's something good in the end."

The proposed community center would be publicly owned and the city will attempt to put as many specifics as possible into the initial contract. Ladewig commented, "We're merely providing a goal and someone else is the vehicle to get us there."

Block added, "We don't have enough capital to be in the driver's seat," before noting recent financial setbacks.

Ladewig concluded, "Let's let someone take a stab at this. Let's see if anyone is interested in helping us meet that goal."

Land Swap

The EDA (Economic Development Authority) recommended to the council their approval for the sale of 7.03 acres of property in the Rush Creek business park. The sale would be a land swap with Rushford businessman Dennie Darr for 1.02 acres of property owned by Darr directly west of the municipal liquor store. Darr intends to use the Rush Creek Park property for the development of an "auction center."

Administrator Block recommended that the council proceed with an appraisal of the downtown property (a $1,012 cost) to evaluate the proceeds in developing it, although he noted that they "may get an answer that you already have an inkling of." The swap would benefit the city not only in development, but in expanding the tax base, likely generating $3,800 per year by Block's estimate.

Block added the council is "timing this perfectly." Sentenced to Serve workers are clearing trees on the Rush Creek Park property and may yet find some value to the city. The city likely won't want to trade until they know. Also, Block noted that the site is a potential place to "dump some fill. We pile it, they level it."

The city will move forward with the appraisal and possible development of the site.

FEMA Certification

The city is counting down on a new two year deadline to complete the necessary improvements to the levee system in order to gain a provisionally accredited standing with FEMA. While the levee is now fully restored to pre-flood condition, it does not meet new standards. It will be temporarily accredited, at least for the two-year time span, while the city attempts to find sizeable funding to complete the recertification of specific tasks.

If the city cannot obtain funding and the work is not completed, the FEMA flood mapping will change, reclassifying the affected areas and potentially drawing huge consequences, such as insurance premiums. Within a few months, the city hopes to know how much land will be needed to put the solution plan in place. Administrator Block noted, "Everyone involved is looking to make a good judgment."

The council stressed that there is a benefit for residents in securing flood insurance prior to the two-year deadline, even if the levee does obtain certification. Premiums for the affected areas, which are now listed as non-floodplain, are low ($119-$388 annually for residential coverage, based on Mayor Ladewig's home address (Floodsmart.gov). By securing the insurance now, the rate would be secured even if the area is re-classified in two years. At that time, premium rates would jump substantially ($509-$2766 annually based on the same address). Insurance could be dropped if the city is re-certified. Mayor Ladewig concluded, "You're essentially buying insurance for insurance."

DNR

The city has received a 2010 Volunteer Fire Assistance Award from the state through the DNR. The grant is pre-designated for special projects.

South Rushford Water

The council and the Village of Rushford have been in discussion about the possible sale of city water to supply the residents of south Rushford due to high radium levels in the village's water supply. The city has been asked for a letter confirming the recent talks and verifying the city's willingness and interest in pursuing the option of a water sale. Seeing an interest in a partnership, the council voted unanimously to send the letter and continue discussions.

Senator Ropes Update

Mayor Ladewig noted that since Senator Sharon Erickson-Ropes recent visit, it appears that she's been diligently working on the issues brought up by the council. "She was very responsive. This wasn't a 'come visit and walk away and forget about it.'"

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