Herald JournalWinsted-Lester Prairie Journal, Nov. 25, 2002

Townships walk out of meeting regarding the joint-use facility

By Julie Yurek

Less than a half hour into a joint meeting, several township officials from Bergen and Winsted townships walked out on the Lester Prairie School Board and Lester Prairie City Council last Monday night.

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss plans of a joint-use facility in the community.

However, township board members did not seem satisfied with information presented to them.

Just prior to the rift, township members asked several questions about the facility.

"What we would like to get to before we leave tonight, is an idea of who's interested in sitting down and rolling up their sleeves and answering questions," Kyllo said.

"If anyone is not interested in sitting at the table and putting money in for bonding, then they're not sitting at the table," Kyllo continued.

With that, six township members left, Eugene Feltmann, Alden Enger, Mike Laxen, Pat Lemke, Ervin Mathews, and Albert Teubert.

"By Mr. Kyllo's comment, the townships felt that were asked to leave if we didn't contribute money," Feltmann said in an interview a few days after the meeting.

"We didn't get any answers that we came for," he said. "We didn't have enough information to make a decision of whether or not to add to the project."

The meeting originally started with a brief overview of two options presented by attorney William Partridge of Farrish Johnson Law Office in Mankato, who is overseeing the joint powers agreement.

One idea for a community facility to work would be a joint option, where two entities, such as the school district and city, both fund the project, Partridge said.

Each "unit" has to levy on some type of basis to contribute, he said.

The other idea is a shared option, where only the school district would levy.

The school district would work out an agreement with whatever organization, the city for instance, who would want to use it, Partridge said.

"Would there be a separate group that would operate the facility and watch costs?" asked Lester Prairie Mayor Eric Angvall.

The law requires that a sub-committee be formed if a joint venture is approved. For the shared option, there is no legal requirement, but a committee can still be formed, Partridge said.

School board members Barry Kyllo and Fred Blaser asked the townships what their thoughts were on the project.

Bergen Township board member Feltmann raised the question of why the townships hadn't been brought into the planning sooner, he asked.

"This is the planning," Blaser replied.

"How can you have a dollar figure if you don't have a plan?" Feltmann asked. $7.3 to $9.6 million is what he's seen for dollar amounts, he said.

"It's purely an estimate," said school board member Chester Hoernemann. Everything is tentative, he added.

"In order to get a discussion started, you have to have some point to start the discussion," Angvall said.

There's been talk between the school and city and few actual joint meetings, Angvall said.

"If you want to be involved in the actual planning of it and what's in the structure, now's the time," he said.

"Is this a realistic figure? Is it feasible?" Feltmann asked.

"What's the tax implications on a $150,000 house?" he asked. "We have to know if it's feasible to do."

"That's what the meeting next month is for," Supt. James Redfield said. Financial advisor and Vice President Joel Sutter of Ehlers and Associates will be present Thursday, Dec. 19 at 7 p.m. at a joint-use committee meeting to answer questions.

The financial consultant will be there to explain, Redfield said.

"Before the question of how much is this building going to cost, is the question of what are we going to put into this building?" Blaser said.

"If you went on tax impact per million dollars, you could figure out how much it costs," Feltmann said.

That's not really an exact way to get costs because of the way state funding is for school districts, Kyllo said.

State aid is usually more the bigger the project, Angvall said.

The subject of the discussion veered off course, with talk of construction costs and labor.

Lester Prairie resident and former mayor Ed Mlynar, the only person from the public to attend the meeting, encouraged the board and council to hire local labor, which both groups agreed they would try to do.

After the township members left, Redfield asked what happened.

"Apparently, they don't want to sit at the table," said school board member Nancy Krull said.

"You can still provide input," she told them as they left.

Redfield asked if they said anything before they left. Everyone shook their heads.

"I think probably what it is, they really don't have a use for the facility," Mlynar said. "They have their city halls and their polling places."

"It has to go to the polls and that's where it'll be decided anyway," Mlynar said.

"Ultimately, all the entities have an investment in this. If we can get the facility and we can have a top notch media center that's available to the community, members of the township, and students, it adds to the community," Krull said.

It would also give more reasons for people to move to this area, she added.

Those who are moving out here from the metro area expect certain services in a community, Hoernemann said. Blaser agreed.

"I apologize to the township people," Redfield said. "That thing with the city survey and those questions (the school district added). The feedback was 'how come it only went to people in the city?' Well, because it happened to be a city survey."

"I feel really bad if they (township members) think there was some type of exclusion," Redfield said.

Partridge hoped the townships didn't feel like the others were looking to them to foot the bill, he said.

If it's a shared-use facility, it's going to be a school facility, then the townships and the city will all be taxed, said Lester Prairie City Clerk Marilyn Pawelk. "Townships are part of the school district."

The township board members may not see a need for the township to use the facility, but their residents may have a need, she said.

The general consensus of the school board and city council was that it made sense that if a facility were built, the school should do it because of the better financial breaks it would receive, rather than the city. "I firmly believe it's a school district issue and that the city should lease it," Mlynar said.

Before more meetings and discussion can proceed, all groups involved need to have the numbers laid out, Krull said.

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