Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, April 16, 2001

Heated discussion takes place over HRA housing

By Patrice Waldron

The idea of adding more Housing Redevelopment Authority (HRA) housing in Lester Prairie, had one citizen very angry at last Monday's Lester Prairie City Council meeting.

Lester Prairie resident Ed Mlynar was very opposed to the idea of building another HRA unit in Lester Prairie.

Thomas Serie, of F & L Management & Development Inc. in Luverne, spoke to the council about the idea of building HRA housing. There are currently eight units in Lester Prairie.

A resolution must be passed by the city council in order for the HRA to do business in the city.

One more four-plex has been approved for each of the towns that currently have essential function bond housing, said Serie.

Silver Lake, Stewart, Lester Prairie, and Brownton would each receive one unit, with two being approved for Plato, because Plato does not have any units.

Advantages to essential function bond housing are, that by state law, the bond interest is federal income tax free, and the other condition, by state law, is that the buildings do not pay real estate taxes.

Five percent of the rent collected goes to the cities where the units are located. The city of Lester Prairie receives about $75 per unit annually, or about $600.

Those two features allow the rents to stay affordable. The units have been continually rented, with eight or nine on a waiting list.

Over the past five years, 56 HRA units have been built in McLeod County, eight of which are in the city of Lester Prairie.

The housing program was started five years ago under essential function bonds in McLeod County.

Current Lester Prairie HRA housing tenants are about 75 percent elderly, and the rest are young people. It is hoped that the young families would transition into purchasing a home.

With the elderly population, it is hoped that the housing would allow someone to remain in Lester Prairie, and also put their house up for sale.

They have seen both situations take place.

"There is a scarcity of property in Lester Prairie, I've had second thoughts to another HRA project in Lester Prairie," said Mlynar.

"This last year, I paid approximately $600 in city tax, and I've got a roof, just like the roofs that are out there (the HRA units), it is not fair to the taxpayers in the city of Lester Prairie to allow any further HRAs," said Mlynar.

"Do you want to use the little bit of property that we have left, within the city limits are we going to allow the HRA to further, for the sake of the developer, his type of business?

"By putting in eight more apartments, you've enabled eight other homes to go on the market that might not have been there," said Mayor Eric Angvall.

You may help senior citizens stay in the community, you may bring in young families, explained Angvall.

"There's a class of people that don't want to own (a home), and are a higher income than the low income housing. That's the niche the HRA looks for," said Serie.

The essential bond function housing units are an investment in the community. Eventually, in maybe 10 to 12 years, the units currently built will be sold to the community.

"Here, we just had approved, south of the river (Prairie Ridge development), private enterprise. I do not see why, we should bring up competition to this new person, who's paying his fair rate of taxes," said Mlynar.

The city council unanimously approved a resolution authorizing the McLeod County HRA to undertake a housing development project within the city of Lester Prairie.

"I cannot see how the city council can back the HRA you're going, primarily, against the grain of private enterprise," said Mlynar.

Other housing

· A city ordinance regarding manufactured homes was approved, with an allowance for City Attorney Kerry Olson to make a small change in wording.

· Councilman Ron Foust reported that there is a builder interested in buying lots 13, 14, and 15 in the southwest development.

An offer of $45,000 for the three lots was made. The builder wants to build on two lots this year, and then on the third lot next year.

The current asking price is $21,500 per lot. The other council members advised Foust to make a counter offer, and sell the lots with the stipulation that if they are not built upon, then the city would be allowed first option to purchase the lots back.

Because of the few buildable lots available in Lester Prairie, the council felt that it is important to sell the lots to someone who will put a house up.

In another housing related issue, the council approved the final plat of the Prairie Ridge Development.

The 180-unit development has been on hold, pending approval from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). A letter from the DNR is now on file, with an agreement being worked out between Segal and the DNR.

The council also approved the change of land designation from agricultural to R1 (residential).

Developer David Segal answered questions concerning the property's drainage.

Of the 80 acres of developable land, all but 10 acres will drain into the Crow River. The remaining 10 acres will drain into a holding pond at the north end of the property.

A discussion concerning the location of the different phases, and the holding pond, took place between Segal and the audience participants.

Phase Two is located south of Phase One, and connects to County Road 9.

When consulting City Engineer Eric Parrott with SEH, it was explained that Phase One of the development received the most attention, with Phase Two being looked over, and Phases Three and Four only receiving a gross overview.

The council expressed its desire to be of assistance, if necessary.

Segal stated that he hopes to start grading the area for 90 lots, those in Phase One and Two, starting June 1, weather permitting.

Improvement will take place on 47 of the lots, such as water mains, water lines, sewer lines, and storm sewer ponding.

Several builders have expressed interest in the project, but won't be able to start construction much before Labor Day, explained Segal.

Once Phase One is substantially completed, construction will begin on Phase Two.

Parking

Parking fines will be increased from $15 to $25, with fees being collected by the city. The fines are currently collected by McLeod County, with fees being split between Lester Prairie and the county.

If Lester Prairie collects the fines, then it gets to keep the entire fine. Officer Robert Carlson of the Lester Prairie Police Department, will be tasked with investigating how to make the change. Last year, 42 parking tickets were given out.

Due to the arrival of spring and the completion of street sweeping, the parking ban was lifted.

City employees

A discussion was held concerning the employees the city hires for the summer. Pool personnel, extra maintenance staff, and the part-time office staff needed to fill the spot vacated by Dorothy Bettcher's retirement were all discussed.

Bettcher is retiring after 11 years of service to the City of Lester Prairie.

Former pool staff have been approached about returning to their previous positions. There has not been a response to the advertisements for lifeguards or a pool manager.

The park board discussed the issue of pool staff at their last meeting, and felt that a pool manager could not be hired for less than $3,500 for the summer, said Rose Halloran, council member and park board representative. The park board is also encouraging adults to apply for the positions.

When summer help for the city maintenance department was discussed, council member Rollie Bruckschen reported that an employee from last year has indicated a desire to return to his position again this summer.

Discussion followed concerning wages.

The employee wishing to return had apparently done an excellent job last year, and his wages were discussed.

"We must look at the value of the job, not the value of the person," said Angvall.

"We want to establish criteria and ranges within it," said Angvall.

Longevity, history at the job, and doing a good job are all worth something, he explained.

Completion of written job descriptions, including salary wages is an ongoing project.

The pay scale guidelines which were approved in December by the city council were located. The council decided what position the summer maintenance person would hold, and were able to determine his hourly wage.

There were four applicants for the permanent part-time position in the city office. Those involved in the interviewing process have selected one candidate for the position.

The council gave the hiring committee its approval to choose a person for the position. If the first candidate turns down the job offer, the committee may offer the job to their next choice.

The new employee will start at $8.75 per hour, with 30-, 60-, and 90- day performance and wage reviews.


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