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Vacancies create opportunities for Rushford citizens


Fri, Jan 16th, 2009
Posted in Government

An unexpected vacancy on the Rushford city council, as well as openings on a number of commissions, make this the perfect time for Rushford citizens to ask what they can do for their city.

Councilwoman Laura Deering announced January 1 that she wished to resign effective January 15. Deering cited newly added responsibilities at her job as the reason for needing to step down.

Deering was appointed to fill a vacancy in 2006, and then ran and was elected in 2007. She was a hard-working fixture during flood recovery as the coordinator of all volunteers. During her short tenure on the council, she frequently provided leadership at meetings with her quietly thoughtful approach, often looking at issues from angles others had not thought of and winning other councilors to her point of view.

She also expressed dissenting points of views on some issues, notably on the rebuilding of the Rushford Municipal Liquor store after the flood. She consistently was the lone vote against state flood recovery dollars being given to new or non-damaged businesses.

At her final meeting January 15, Deering accepted the thanks and well wishes of council and staff, while saying very little herself.

Mayor Les Ladewig thanked Deering for her service on the council, but especially for her "work, and I mean ALL of your work, during flood recovery. I appreciate how much good you did for the people."

City administrator Windy Block laid out the options for replacing Deering until a special election can be held during the regular election November 3, 2009. The council can 1) appoint a "qualified citizen" to serve until November or 2) advertise for interested citizens to apply, conduct interviews and identify the most qualified candidate or 3) begin the steps to hold a special election prior to November.

City attorney Scott Springer, absent due to weather conditions, sent his opinion that adopting ordinances to hold the special election would take several months and considerable expense.

The council decided to do what it has done to fill vacancies in the past: encourage interested citizens to fill out a brief application at city hall, form a small interview committee, and make recommendations to the council who will then appoint the replacement.

"I would like to see us seat someone as quickly as possible," said councilwoman Nancy Benson. The council agreed to hear recommendations at the February 9 meeting and to appoint someone then.

In addition to the council seat, the city has vacancies for citizens on the airport commission, the electric commission, and the tree board. All interested should stop in or contact City Hall as soon as possible.

Library

The council approved plans to continue to research a fundraising campaign for a new library in Rushford, although they were not yet asked to actually approve fundraising activities.

Librarian Susan Hart and library board representative Daniel Munson were present to seek the council's go-ahead.

A report from Crescendo Consulting of Winona finds there to be "an extremely strong pool of leaders within the Rushford area to conduct a successful capital campaign," and concludes that while there are certainly challenges, it may indeed be possible to raise $1.5 million in private financial support from the greater Rushford area in support of a new library.

The city of Rushford will assist with approximately $490,000 (state DEED grant) to be used for land acquisition, architectural fees and consulting. Plans include the possibility that city hall will also move to the new building, being financially responsible for its portion of the project to construct and maintain its own offices.

Munson, the newly elected chair of the library board, said after the meeting that the board has been studying this project for about ten years and has examined any number of possible partnerships "to share building space (with the library) in order to be more efficient and to share the maintenance costs so that we can keep the costs of running a library as low as possible."

The city offices have emerged as the most viable partner in cost-sharing.

In approximately 40 citizen interviews, Crescendo found universal agreement that a new library is needed when looking at the current limited space plus rapidly growing use by patrons. Many of those interviewed cited past successes with fundraising for city projects in Rushford.

The group also uncovered challenges in the area of misperceptions.

Some still seem bitter that FEMA dollars bestowed on the city for rebuilding the flooded municipal liquor store might have been diverted, even with financial penalty, to a library or community center project, according to Crescendo's report.

Munson pointed out that the group is looking to raise private money for the library. "We are not looking to burden the tax-payers with this $1-1.5M library. The burden will be on us, so disparaging remarks about the costs are baseless," he said.

The next step will be to form a more permanent steering committee to look at fundraising plans while also addressing the concerns raised during the interviews. Crescendo will attend a future city council meeting, seeking to be hired as fundraisers for the project.

Fire Department Changes

Change is also in the air at the Rushford Fire Department where Mike Ebner has stepped down as chief after nine years. Dave Lombard will take over, with Paul Corcoran and Dale Brand serving as 1st and 2nd Assistant Chiefs, respectively.

Council approved a requested increase in officer reimbursements for volunteer officers, their first increase in ten years.

Deer

An aerial census taken by the DNR last year showed a huge deer population just north of Rushford and another to the south, near Ferndale golf course. In each of these areas the population exceeds 100 deer per square mile.

According to Block, two points the DNR made when asked about controlling the deer population in Rushford are that 1) the area is too small. A hunt would have to take place on a much larger area, meaning nearby land owners and municipalities would have to be brought on board to give their permission and 2) deer are NOT starving right now, thus citizen feeding is anti-productive. The DNR strongly suggests the city institute a non-feeding program before considering any kind of population control so as not to be "encouraging them to come eat, then slaughtering them at the same time."

"It is extremely cumbersome to get into deer control, especially in a small city," Block says he was told. The DNR deemed methods such as tranquilizing and birth control as not cost-effective.

So, for now at least, Rushford's deer are enjoying a reprieve.

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