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Preston council discusses pond beautification plans

Fri, Nov 10th, 2006
Posted in Government

PRESTON - Preston City Council members listened to presentations from members of the Trout/Fountain Committees at their November 6 meeting.

The projects grew out of the Town Meeting Initiative, sponsored by the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation.

City Administrator Joe Hoffman explained that there was some resistance to placing fountains in either of the ponds developed by MnDot. Apparently, a representative of MnDot claimed a fountain would cause too much turbulence in a pond. MnDot now owns the ponds, but is scheduled to turn them over to the city of Preston.

MnDot has threatened to retain title if the city goes forward with installation of an aerator. Council member Steve Knoepke in frustration stated, "Fine, then they can maintain them for the next fifty years." The city would be responsible for maintaining the ponds, cleaning out the collected debris, once title was turned over to city. Hoffman didn't seem to think MnDot's objection would be a problem in the end.

Ron Hanson, representing the Fountain Committee, noted that the total cost of one fountain aerator including cord and colored lights would be about $4,000. He said the city would be expected to store the aerator over the winter and install and maintain it. It was estimated to cost $35 to $40 for power per month. The fountain would be placed in the pond near Preston Service Plus. Hanson suggested that originally the fountain committee hoped to place fountains in both ponds.

Mariella Ter Beest Schladweiler representing the Trout Committee explained their proposal to have a three dimensional sculpture depicting a trout coming out of the water in the pond near the Branding Iron Restaurant. She also detailed a second possibility of a mobile sculpture.

Professor Kelly Herold from Winona State University is helping to coordinate students in the Preston area for a contest for a "trout" drawing. He said that there would be divisions for grade, middle, and high school students, plus adults. The plan is to have the drawings displayed at a fund raiser to be held March 24, 2007, at Eagle Bluff. Winners of each division would be awarded $50. A grand prize of $300 would go to the overall winner.

Joe Hoffman offered to work with both committees to draft a resolution of support for both projects. The council will review them at their next meeting. Council members were generally in support of the projects. Mayor Kurt Reicks noted that a fountain would keep the pond water from being stagnate and an eye sore.

City Audit Cost

Lloyd Johnson and his firm have done the work for the city audit for the last several years. A local firm has expressed interest in doing the work. Johnson offered his proposal and terms for completing the 2006 audit. He asked for a $1675 increase for both the city and utility audits bringing the total to $16,260. The city's fee would be $9,945. He insisted he was still considerably cheaper than most firms. Steve Knoepke said that the public may question a 20% increase. Council member Heath Mensink suggested that the council could open it up for bids next August or September for the 2007 audit. Jon Haugan said that he believes in using local businesses as much as possible. Reicks agreed that it would be better to wait until next fall to open the bidding.

Johnson's offer for 2006 was accepted. Bids will be advertised for next year.

Ambulance Service

Jeremy Maul addressed the council again about salary increases for the EMT's. Steve Knoepke insisted that throwing more money at the problem will not solve the problem of not having enough people in the service. Maul listed difficulties in encouraging people to become and stay on as EMT's, including burdens on family life and work. Mensink said that the suggested raises were a "steep hike." It was noted that the community of Grand Meadow has a waiting list to get on their service. Maul said that he would love to have the problem of too many people. One-hundred and twenty hours of schooling is required to become an EMT plus meetings and ongoing education.

Knoepke offered a middle of the road increase, including a raise for in-service training from $5.15 to $10 per hour, a raise for attendance at meetings from $5 to $12 per meeting and a raise for continuing education from $3.80 to $5 per hour. Other members agreed and approved the increases. Although the increases were much less than requested, Hoffman said that these are significant pay increases.

COLA Increases

The Preston Public Employees Association (PPEA) has requested a 3.7% cost of living increase (COLA). Hoffman made it clear that COLA increases are not meant to be a raise, but are only a method to keep wages in line with inflation. He said that they are not meant to be a reward for good work. Hoffman explained that hurricane Katrina put a temporary hike in the government's numbers. The council has offered to give the employees a 3% increase which on average has been above inflation increases. A motion to leave the COLA at 3% was approved.

Other Business

• The council approved the Doherty rezoning as recommended by the Planning and Zoning Committee. The property is approximately 51 acres. Hoffman noted that two new home lots plus the existing homes will be zoned R2 (one or two family residential). About 8.3 acres will be zoned B2 or highway commercial. The rest of the property will be zoned R1 (agricultural or residential). Hoffman said that there was no opposition to the rezoning at the public hearing and that the land owner agrees.

• A Truth in Taxation Meeting had been scheduled for December 5, 2006. Hoffman stated that the city was not required to hold the meeting since the levy increase was lower than the level which mandates a meeting. The meeting was canceled.

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