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Preston local government aid more than anticipated

Fri, Jul 10th, 2009
Posted in Government

City Administrator Joe Hoffman said at the council's July 6 meeting that the reduction of funds from the state is "good news compared with what we thought it would be." This last month Governor Tim Pawlenty made known a $300 million reduction in Local Government Aid (LGA) would be made, affecting cities and counties across the state. The LGA for Preston will be reduced $30,580 in 2009, which is just a little more than half of the $58,152 the city expected and budgeted for last February and approved March 2.

Hoffman explained the LGA cut for 2010 was reported to be $76,450, which is about $50,000 less than anticipated. He suggested the city may actually have a surplus of about $28,000 in 2009, which was created with the deep cuts made earlier this year. Any surplus will more than be wiped out in 2010 with the additional $45,000 to be cut more than this year.

Mr. Hoffman made it clear that Preston is better off than many other cities as Poet Biorefining's TIF recently expired increasing the city's revenue significantly.

Councilman Robert Sauer suggested there could be additional cuts if the state realizes even less funds than forecasted. He reminded the council that the mechanism used by the governor, unallotment, originally was meant only for emergency shoring up of the budget near the end of a budget cycle like last December. This is the first time the unallotment authority has been used to essentially balance the budget at the beginning of the cycle because the legislature and the governor could not come to an agreement.

Scenic Byway Signage

Hoffman noted the designation of Highway 16 from LaCrosse to Dexter as a Scenic Byway by the US Department of Transportation (DOT) a few years ago. The National Scenic Byways Program recognizes roads "based on one or more archeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational and scenic qualities."

The issue to be discussed is the policy of the DOT which prohibits billboards and any advertising signs for any business not situated along the highway. MnDot wants to add the section located within the Preston city limits. Hoffman is concerned about the need for signage for downtown businesses. He remarked the city has not been pleased to this point with MnDot and their limitation of signage for downtown businesses. Hoffman added MnDot can regulate any signs visible from their right of way even when they are located on private property.

Hoffman was just informing the council and seeking their input. Mayor Kurt Reicks insisted informational signs to direct people were necessary. Hoffman intends to get more clarification from MnDot. He suggested setting up a meeting with Rep. Greg Davids and Senator Sharon Ropes and MnDot to address questions and express the city's wishes.

Other Business In Brief

•Robert Sauer offered a resolution to make Ordinance 1099, which he considers overly punitive and rigid, more citizen friendly. He said the ordinance has not always been enforced as written. He remarked if the city doesn't want to enforce the penalty clause, they should get rid of it. Sauer's solution is to alter or amend the ordinance to allow leeway for those who inadvertently break the law, but abide by the law once informed of the limits of the law. He added the average person doesn't know all the ordinances. Sauer wants all citizens treated equally.

City Attorney Dwight Luhmann agreed the ordinance needs some changes but wanted more time to think it through and the affect the changes would have in practice. The issue will be back on the agenda in two weeks.

•Tourism Board Chairman Cherrie Brink explained there were eight applications for Tourism Director and three of those were interviewed. Kathy Dahl was recommended by the board as she was a long time-resident, experienced and educated for this type of position. The hiring of Dahl was approved.

•Hoffman, along with EMS Director Ed Hallisy, are recommending that there be a policy committee established to work on a manual of their organization and operating practices. Kurt Reicks volunteered to be a member of the committee which will consist of Hoffman, Hallisy and two ambulance members.

•The city has group health insurance from Blue Cross Blue Shield. They purchase it through the Southeast Service Cooperative (SSC), which includes counties, cities and school districts. Hoffman reported Preston had significantly reduced claims. The city and the utility will share a "claims margin return" in the amount of $18,342. He praised the employees for taking care of themselves.

•The council acknowledged and accepted the donations for flower baskets totaling $575, from thirteen donors.

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