City considers public upgrades

FAIRMONT – Part 2 of Fairmont City Council’s budgeting process on Monday resulted in a few priorities for 2014.

Using $115,000 in revenue from the city’s liquor store, the council informally agreed on a short list of improvements it would like to see happen next year. Items on the list are as follows:

o Replace Ward Park’s playground equipment. The cost is estimated at $30,000, according to city administrator Mike Humpal.

o Complete upgrades to Winnebago Sports Complex, such as implementing an irrigation system, planting trees, providing shade screens for the dugouts and upgrading the scoreboards. The scoreboards, estimated at $17,000, will be paid for with reserve funds and revenue from businesses that want to advertise their names on the scoreboards.

The city is going to look into DIY options for the dugout screens, whether the city devises and installs something, or a high school building trades class is recruited for the task. Humpal also suggested selling advertising space on the screens.

The sports complex will be closing for the year in September for various improvements to the fields.

o Fixing up the fire hall and researching solutions for the street and park departments’ building.

Upgrades to the fire hall – like new paint, flooring and a kitchen renovation – are estimated at $15,000, for which the city has extra capital reserves.

But city staff also suggested hiring an architect to examine a potential expansion of the fire hall and to explore options for the streets and parks building.

Most likely, the latter will need to be razed and replaced. The street and park departments are located on Margaret Street, in a building cobbled together from numerous expansions.

To get from one department to the next, a person has to walk through a bathroom, Humpal said, to give the council an idea of how disjointed the building is.

About $30,000 is what the administrator thinks it will cost for the architect.

o Researching and potentially creating a dog park.

The council has eyed two spots for a potential dog park: by the skate park or the aquatic park. But before venturing forward with a $40,000 project, further research is needed, the group decided Monday.

The dog park would be an enclosed area, where dogs could run free, allowing them and their owners to socialize.

The parks are an increasingly common and popular amenity in cities across the country. Humpal frequently cites as an example a dog park on the outskirts of Mankato, on Highway 169 just north of the city.

Councilman Darin Rahm voiced concern about adding another park for the city to maintain, to which his colleagues pointed out that the dog park would be located on property already owned and maintained by the city.

The council also talked at length about connecting the trail from Cedar Creek Park to Knollwood Drive.

Councilman Terry Anderson said he wants to see the trail continue through the woods, alongside the lake, rather than connecting with Knollwood Drive. Scenery and pedestrian safety were his concerns, but his opinion was not supported, due to the additional cost.

Humpal suggested the city start setting money aside for the project, since the estimate to build the trail and a bridge over a deep embankment is $275,000.

(The family that owns the property needed to complete the trail may not interested in selling. In a phone call to the Sentinel, a relative said that his family, which donated land for the Cedar Creek trail, feels its donation to the city was extremely generous, and this relative believes that those asking for more land to complete the trail are unappreciative.)

Many of the other goals the council came up with during a previous budget brainstorming session can be paid for through various sources. For instance, updates to the council chamber could come from excess capital reserves from other projects that came in under budget.

The cost to upgrade chairs and the audio and video system is estimated at $30,000. The council discussed charging Fairmont Area Schools and other groups that use the facility, or asking the school district to split the expense.

Other projects slated for 2014, for which the city would not need additional tax dollars, include:

o Upgrading the city’s website and creating a mobile app, at a cost of $5,000. The mobile app would be free for cell phone users to download, and it would provide a way to quickly communicate with city staff and to easily access pertinent information, from the city calendar to maps of the city.

“I think a mobile app’s a must,” said Councilman Chad Askeland. “We’re in 2013. Everybody has them.”

o Removing blighted houses, at a cost of $42,500. Liquor store revenue will continue to pay for this.

o Offering a citywide cleanup, for which $65,000 is budgeted. A monthly utility fee of $1.25 covers this cost.

o Upgrading the airport and hiring new airport operator and management. Airport revenues would pay for the $302,000 budgeted for this project.

o Improving the Birds Bridge channel. The city’s lake restoration fund will pay for the $350,000 project.

Funding is not available for more projects, though revenue is expected to increase next year.

Government aid is expected to jump by $18,000 for 2014, plus the city will garner sales tax savings of $50,000 to $60,000. A 3 percent levy cap by the state will limit the council to a maximum levy increase of $99,000.

Those extra monies will go toward mainly internal expenses, however, like wages, which are set to increase by 2 percent due to union agreements, and a 15 percent health insurance hike.

The council must approve a preliminary budget and levy in September, after which, the levy can be lowered but not increased.