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Davids and Ropes meet with Lanesboro City Council

Fri, Jul 10th, 2009
Posted in Government

Senator Sharon Ropes and Representative Greg Davids spent some time in Lanesboro this week. They spoke to the public and the City Council during the joint meeting with the Public Utilities Commission on July 6.

Ropes said that she and Davids have been working well together during the hard economic times. She asked the council how Lanesboro is doing as far as their budget.

"The next couple of years are still going to be very challenging," said Ropes. She added there has been talk that when the next legislative session starts in February, the state will again be looking at a six billion dollar budget deficit.

Ropes mentioned the unallotment, which will not affect Lanesboro. Cities with a population of under 1,000 will not have any cuts made to their LGA (Local Government Aid).

There will be some shifts made in funding for K-12 education. Ropes explained the payments to schools will be pushed to next year. She added that with no money to follow that shift, there will still be a hole. Unless there is some revenue coming in, it will become a cut to the K-12 system.

"The economy continues to be very grave, and Minnesota is not immune," said Ropes.

Davids said when he started his work as a representative this year, the deficit was projected to be around $1.1 billion. It continued to get larger every month after the election. "Where there's a problem is when the markets go down, the state bases too much of its budget on the Capital Gains taxes. There's always a debate about taxing the rich. That can create problems, though."

Davids said he has been talking to economists and they are trying to find ways to generate more revenue. "Unless things turn around, in February things will not be good."

Davids gave out his card with contact information and asked for ideas.

Both Davids and Ropes spoke about the Health and Human Services budget. Davids said there were cutbacks on the increases this year, but no actual cuts. He said the Health and Human Services budget will soon surpass K-12 education. Ropes said someday it will be larger than the entire state budget.

The legislators asked the council if they had any questions or ideas, and wanted to know how Lanesboro is doing. Before the meeting they had taken a tour of the city and looked at the dam and the hydro.

Council member Ceil Anderson brought up the sales tax issue as a way to increase revenues, something that has been brought up many times and has never been approved. Lanesboro would like to set its own sales tax to increase revenue to the city, but the state is no longer allowing it. Ropes explained that the state is trying to get away from letting cities do their own sales tax. They are trying to avoid a huge gap between high wealth communities and low wealth. She added that she will continue to bring it up and "bang a drum" for Lanesboro when it comes to sales tax.

Council member Joe O'Connor stated that Lanesboro's reserves are in line with where they should be. However, if things continue like this for two or three more years, they will have to start looking at essential services and making some difficult decisions.

Ropes said it is a good idea to plan five, ten, and even fifteen percent cuts in case it comes to that. "We don't know what's going to happen," she said.

A question was asked from the community if the economy has hit bottom and started going up yet. Davids replied it has not hit bottom yet, but is perhaps three-fourths of the way down. He shared some concerns about things going on in Washington, D.C., such as the government taking over General Motors and printing $1.2 trillion in new cash. "We are creating debt to pay debt, and it's scary," said Davids.

Ropes and Davids both felt it important to put aside party differences and work together toward the same goals. They are open to phone calls, emails, and letters with suggestions, questions and concerns.

Conditional Use Permit

After listening to comments and concerns from the community at the public hearing and at this meeting, the council approved a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) for the Open Air Market downtown.

O'Connor said he had spoken with Sandy Keith from the Rochester Downtown Alliance about their Thursdays on First open air market. He said that all businesses in the downtown area have benefited from the market, and it has grown to a large number of vendors.

Terry Neumann, who owns Mrs. B's Bed and Breakfast, shared his approval of the project, saying that it's a great idea. He added many of his guests would also enjoy it.

Patrick Danz, the owner of Slant Avenue Mercantile, expressed some concerns about affects to his business. When he orders things from his suppliers, he makes sure that nobody else in Lanesboro is selling the same thing, so there is no competition with the other stores. He is not against the open air market, and sees the need to do something there, but worries that people with booths there will not care about their affect on other businesses.

Council member Vince Jeannette voted against the permit. He also has concerns about traffic, as people already use the restroom in his business. "I think that people will be coming in for a weekend and leave and not care," said Jeannette. "I can't say that I'm for or against it, but I'm leaning towards against it."

Colleen Lamon from the Chamber of Commerce said there is a retail group that meets through the Chamber. As a rule they ask each other to check with their sales reps about what other businesses are selling. Her understanding is the market will be a themed market. She also shared her faith in the property owners, Eric and Andy Bunge. "I have not seen them not do something for the benefit of the community," she said. "We have to believe in that."

Eric Bunge said the market will not start until 2010, and he already has a request for a weekend in May from a local business.

Electric rates

A public hearing was held before the meeting for the community to look at the proposed increase in electric, water and sewer rates. Public Utilities employee Jared Wagner explained the electric rates for residential and commercial would go up sixteen percent. The base rates would stay the same. The sewer, water, and water meter rates will all be lumped together with a base rate of $25.

"Our rates were raised just as much," said Wagner. "This is our forecast to try to break even."

Wagner added that conservation is the thing to work on. They have made it so people can see lower bills by decreasing the energy they use in their homes.

Other Business

The council approved a quote for a siren to be placed next to the water tower. The fire department had requested one be placed in the area up near Maple Drive as it is hard for people to hear the sirens there in case of emergency. Some people expressed concerns about hearing the noon siren every day in that area. Vickerman is going to look into the equipment fund to check for money, as well as look into programming the siren. The cost for the 5HP siren was $2,910; the electric pole is $1,000; and the wire siren is $2,362.28.

Vickerman also spoke about making improvements to the hydro so that it can run at night. This will help cut back on what energy the city is purchasing from Dairyland Power during the peak times. The city is trying to tap into every facet they can to be as green as possible and to save money. She said that energy-efficient appliances really do make a difference. She handed out a pamphlet with other energy saving ideas for people to use in their homes.

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