HJ/EDJuly 17, 2006

Audit is favorable for Cokato

By Lynda Jensen

Cokato’s financial health is doing very well, with the city paying down its debt, as well as sitting on a comfortable reserve, according to the annual audit.

Auditor Paul Harvigo of Conway, Deuth and Schmiesing delivered good news to the council last Monday during his annual report.

“Your overall position is better,” Harvigo said, noting that cash was up, the city paid off more of its debt, and that capital assets are up. “You’re in pretty good shape,” Harvigo added, noting that not many cities have 11 months of financial reserves on hand like Cokato.

All wasn’t completely favorable, since Harvigo noted that the city was tagged by the state auditor for not being sufficiently covered by pledged collateral at the State Bank of Cokato.

It is the city’s responsibility – not the bank’s – to make sure that sufficient collateral is there for its assets, Harvigo said. The city decided to graph out its four major periods of revenue from local government aid, and manage its collateral from there.

Harvigo singled out the ambulance special revenue fund as being in particularly good condition, noting that there was a cushion of about $30,000 to $40,000 in that fund.

The fund balance is up from a total of $90,107 in 2004. He predicted Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements to go down, which will drain this extra amount. Nevertheless, he commented on its good shape. “I’m very pleased with (it),” he said.

Harvigo also suggested making small, cost-of-living increases in utility rates, despite the fact that this would be unpopular, he said. Rates are going up in every city that he serves, he said. “Rates are skyrocketing everywhere,” he added.

This sort of long term, small increase in rates would help offset any major projects in the future and avoid the big jumps in service rates, he said.

An example of unexpected expenses has been the government changing levels for acceptable arsenic in city water, which is costing cities big bucks. The council doesn’t know what the legislature might do which would incur additional expenses, he said.

He encouraged the council to engage in long-term planning for future big projects, setting aside money little by little to offset big expenses down the road.

Another suggestion was to “cross train” employees so that more than one of them knows how to handle payroll and writing checks.

Progress made at Trailstone

Work appears to be moving forward regarding the Trailstone development, with a meeting taking place among Mayor Bruce Johnson, city engineer Don Broberg, and Aaron Lehto, who represents the developer about problems there.

“We’re getting there,” commented council member Butch Amundsen.

The developer will do the following:

• mow the tall grass by the top of the retention pond;

• incorporate weed control in the park and common areas;

• spread the black dirt stock pile in the southwest corner of the development over the adjacent lots;

• put down new grass seed in the park where previous attempts were unsuccessful.

He also agreed to install a new streetlight near the end of the blacktop on Trailstone Drive, with the cost being paid for by the developer.

In addition, paving of 53rd Avenue was discussed and is being planned for the fall. The city will contact the township, which owns half the road; although the city will maintain the whole road after it is paved. Amundsen noted that the city will plant trees.

Odds and ends

In other business, the council:

• grudgingly approved painting and maintenance to be done on 39 light poles along Highway 12, to the tune of $17,355, awarding the job to Jose Painting of Dassel.

The work will cover power wire brush work to remove rust from road salt, and then the application of primer and two coats of paint. One other bid was Pettit Painting of Howard Lake for $18,642. “I’ve watched the slow deterioration of them since they were installed, Amundsen said. “They’re nasty,” Erickson agreed. “I just regret that they purchased something that will give us problems forever and ever,” commented Jan Severson.

• approved a change order for the storm sewer upgrade planned to accommodate the new Dollar Store, to be constructed next to the Dairy Queen. The work will be shared between the city and Dollar Store, with the latter paying $22,500 of the project, which is estimated to be about $54,000.

• approved the firefighters’ relief association a temporary permit for a pedal car raffle during Corn Carnival.

• approved sharing the cost of an Opticon traffic signal with the state ($4,000 each), which allows emergency vehicles to give themselves green lights at the stoplight. There will be an additional cost of $600 to $700 on each truck that will have an activator on it.

• decided to send three representatives to a city and county gathering sponsored by Wright County that is designed to promote better understanding of each entity, Monday, July 31. Amundsen, Severson, and Mayor Bruce Johnson will attend.

• heard the first reading of a change to city ordinance regarding commercial garbage haulers. The change removes the limitation of licensed commercial haulers from three to an unlimited number, which means that private businesses may go ahead and choose whatever haulers they wish instead of the three previously listed.

The second reading, which is when the ordinance change takes effect, is set for the next council meeting, 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 14. Residential service is governed by a separate ordinance.

• approved a wetland delineation for Laurel Village, which will likely proceed to the next level of having its plat approved by the council.

The council made it clear that the project would not proceed until it saw some money from the developer, which Pete Keiner of Suburban Land Development and Design assured them would be the case.

Keiner admitted have a few issues on his end which prevented the proper chain of events, but noted that these problems have since been fixed.

Will liquor be asked on the fall ballot?

The question of whether strong liquor sales would be on the ballot in the fall was broached by council member Gordy Erickson, who asked when the deadline was for turning in materials for it during the Cokato Council meeting. Clerk Peggy Carlson noted that a petition, if there is one, must be turned in by the end of August. She was unsure of any additional information about the subject.

According to Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer, a petition is the only way to place strong liquor on the ballot – and, in fact, there is a section of law that specifically corresponds to this subject, she said.

During the meeting, Erickson wanted to know if the council could simply pass a resolution of some kind to place the question on the ballot. “No, the statute allows for petition only,” Kiffmeyer told the Enterprise via telephone after the meeting.

There must be at least 200 signatures from registered voters who live in the city limits or 30 percent of the number of people voting in the last city election; whichever is fewer, she said. In the last city election, 1,401 Cokato residents cast their votes, with 30 percent of this being 420 signatures.

The petition, if there is one, must be turned into the city clerk at least 53 days before the election, plus another five to 10 days to give the city clerk time to verify that each signature as being a legitimate registered voter, Kiffmeyer said.

This lands about the end of August, Kiffmeyer said. “You can do a special election,” she added, saying that it wasn’t required to have a general year election for the ballot question.

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