Sheila Craig, Preston Historical Society, presented a proposal for the possible acquisition and transport of the Spring Grove rail depot to the former Preston Dairy & Farm site during the city council’s April 5 meeting. Jon DeVries added extensively to the discussion, strongly encouraging the council to agree to the use of the Dairy & Farm site.
She said it is a twin to the depot that was in Preston. Ila Mae Olstad wrote, “The center of action was the Preston depot. The sounds of morse code clicking and the smell of the oil in the wooden floors still come back to me.”
Craig detailed plans for a community partnership to move, fund, and restore the old depot. She explained their three- to four-year plan. The city would be asked to provide and prepare the site/foundation. The plan called for using the concrete base of the remaining Dairy & Farm building.
Craig said the depot will help to complete the story of the rail and the significance of it to the history of Preston.
Mayor Kurt Reicks said he would like to get the Dairy & Farm site area back on the tax roll. He asked what the initial cost to the city would be. DeVries said it wouldn’t use much of the site (only about 5% of it). Hoffman suggested it would use the north half of the site.
DeVries argued nothing will happen until the depot is in place (meaning other funding sources). The city can continue to own the slab and let the historical society put the building on it.
Councilman Dean Aug said the project is worth pursuing; the depot is part of the town’s heritage.
Hoffman reminded them that the city doesn’t own the property. City Attorney Dwight Luhmann explained that including the work done by Scheevel and Sons, the purchase price is about $125,000 for the property.
DeVries asked that the council endorse the project; we need a commitment to move the depot and to finalize negotiations with the current owner.
Reicks asked for answers to particular questions so the council is able to make an informed decision, saying, “First we need to own the property and then decide what to do with it. We have more questions than answers at this point. If you don’t get this location you can find another.” DeVries insisted that they are committed to the Dairy & Farm location.
Reicks suggested the EDA get involved and look at the plans. Councilman Robert Maust maintained that we need a lot more information. Our engineer needs to look at it.
Craig said they will work with the council and answer their questions.
Hoffman asked if there would be sufficient space for other redevelopment on the property. What does everyone have in mind for the use of this site? An engineer needs to be involved for site planning. Reicks asked if we want the redevelopment to include housing. What is the best use of the property? Maust suggested the depot project would be expensive; “I don’t see how it could be done without bonding money.” Hoffman noted that we need to see an estimate of what the total rehab of the depot would cost. Reicks added, “You are basically just getting a shell of a building.”
Craig said they would apply for grants. There is not a budget to renovate the depot from start to finish yet.
Hoffman will develop some options for the property and present them to the city council.
Jason Boynton, Smith Schafer & Associates, LTD., presented the city’s 2020 audit. An unmodified “clean” opinion was issued on the city’s financial statements.
The levy/property taxes represent 44% of total government revenues; Local Government Aid represents 22% of the city’s revenue ( this has been a gradually smaller portion over recent years).
The city is in good shape; reserves represent 57% of annual General Fund expenditures. Timely bond payments are being made.
City Administrator Joe Hoffman praised deputy clerk Sheila Marzolf for her work in preparation for the audit; Boynton agreed that she did good work
The audit was accepted as presented.
Fillmore County Jail needs study
Sheriff John DeGeorge has been meeting with city councils and will meet with other community groups in an effort to inform the public on the study that is being done concerning the future of the jail. A committee has been formed, made up of local justice system stakeholders, county officials, community leaders, and citizens. DeGeorge explained this is a data driven process; an analysis will be done of the jail population, correctional services, usage, operational costs, and county population.
The 1969 facility is likely the oldest in the state and is non-compliant with current codes and standards. The building itself is obsolete and deteriorating. A jail’s useful life is about 30 years. This jail has been in service almost twice that.
Inmates can not be separated based on classification in the current facility. There is a lack of programming and recreational space. The linear design does not allow visibility into inmate housing which can pose operational, security and safety risks. Today’s facilities are built in a pod style so inmates can be visually supervised. The building is old, as are the utilities. The Department of Corrections (DOC) inspects jails annually. The last report stated, “corrective action at this time would require substantial remodeling or expansion of the current facility.”
DeGeorge made it clear that the size of the current facility is not the issue. Significantly more bed space is not needed. However, if the county does nothing, the DOC could order the closer of the jail. If the jail is closed, more deputies would be needed to transport inmates.
The committee is looking at four options: close the jail and pay to transport and house inmates elsewhere, 72-hour book and hold facility and pay to transport and house inmates elsewhere, keep it a 90-day facility and pay to transport and house inmates over 90 days elsewhere, or construct a facility that will meets DOC requirements and operate 365 days per year.
The analysis of the data will eliminate three of the options. The remaining option will be recommended to the county board, as the best option to fulfill the county’s needs, sometime later this summer.
DeGeorge is looking for public input. This is the second study that has been conducted. The first was in 2003. At that time the construction of an addition was considered. It was a good decision to wait as an addition wouldn’t have solved some of today’s issues. In 2017 the jail was reduced to a 90-day facility.
The DOC is willing to work with the county if they see that the county is working toward a solution. The study process is being done to gather and analyze data so the best decision is made for the county. The final decision will be made by the county board.
State veterans home
Three veterans home projects in Minnesota received good news last week. All three received federal funding. The American Rescue Plan included $570 million for veterans homes. Eighty-three requests had been submitted for funding. Even with this much larger funding figure over the previous year, only 47 of the 83 requests received funding. Construction of the Preston home is expected to begin in the fall.
Funds are still being sought for amenities that have been cut from the project to keep within budget. These items, some of which can be added at a future point, include an entrance road, transfer garage, entrance canopy, gazebo, and a dumpster area.
Hoffman wants to recognize and thank all the groups and individuals that have helped this process along.
Other business in brief
•Four new driveway approaches had been requested as part of the upcoming 2021 Street and Utility Project. The requests were approved.
•Approval was given for four Local Small Cities Development Program applications. The four applications for $10,000 each for rehabilitation of commercial property and apartments in the downtown business district were approved.
•The purchase of office furniture for city hall was approved. The total cost is $5,716 of which $2,825.50 will come out of tourism/EDA budget and the balance will be paid for by the city.
•Approval was given to go ahead with plans for the Trout Days Parade. The extent of the parade will be determined by COVID guidelines that may change by May.
•Mensink Landscaping is hired to do annual weed treatments at Crown Hill Cemetery.
•Ian Shupe was hired as the summer helper. David Babbitt was hired for the cemetery mowing position and Nick Marzolf was hired on an as needed basis.
•Lisa Brainard, Kathryn Kinneberg, and Peggy Bjortomt were hired to work at the Preston Visitor’s Center for the 2021 season.
•The next council meeting will be on April 19 and will include the Local Board of Appeal and Equalization at 6 p.m.