March 5, 2007

HL residents voice approval for city to aid in acquisition of grocery store

A petition and a room full of people at the public hearing

By Jennifer Gallus
Staff Writer

A petition with 92 signatures and more than two dozen Howard Lake residents and grocery store supporters were present at an open meeting Tuesday.

The Howard Lake City Council hosted a public hearing in an effort to gauge the support of residents in having the city offer some kind of financial incentive in future negotiations with potential grocers.

About 10 people approached the podium to voice their approval for some kind of assistance from the city in a future acquisition.

The petition that was circulated and signed by 92 people that said, “To petition the city council to help with a new grocery store. We support efforts by the city to help by financial incentives in getting a grocery store in Howard Lake.”

“Tonight, we want to hear from you. We’re (the city) looking at all the legalities of what we can and cannot do. Tonight is for the community,” Mayor Richard Lammers said.

Council Member Tom Kutz said he was in favor of the city’s assistance, but wanted to know how far the citizens wanted the city to go.

“Free money, subsidy, low interest money – the tax dollars are your dollars, what kind of subsidy do you want?” Kutz asked the public.

Howard Lake resident Maria Stolz said she’d prefer spending her dollars in town. She said her frustration was in driving out of town to spend her money.

Stolz said she would like the city to consider looking into a program she researched that provides a federal tax credit for small rural communities.

“I suggest we look into creating a task force to decide how we can build a community just for us. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a deli and bakery in the new grocery store?” Stolz said.

Planning and Zoning board member Jean Schmidt asked what information the council would be providing the community that night.

One resident said, “I consider my tax dollars going to waste when my wife drives to Cokato or Winsted to buy groceries.”

Another resident asked how close the city was in attaining a grocer and if the city is within a dollar figure.

The response from Lammers was that a number of people have shown an interest in recent days.

Former mayor and grocer Gerry Smith said, “I think the word ‘subsidy’ is scaring people. To build a new grocery store is about $2 million, and another half million with new equipment. We need to throw them a bone to get them in. I don’t want anyone scared about a subsidy.”

Kutz said he would agree to do whatever was needed to get a grocer in town, but wanted the city to get its money back.

“I think the payback to us (city residents) is for us to shop in town. Not only will they shop at the grocery store, but they will then shop other places in town,” resident and former council member Shelly Reddemann said.

One resident said that every business in town saves people money in not having to travel out of town to do business.

Another resident said, “It just comes down to common sense. We need a grocery store and you (the city) need to find a way to get one.”

“The council wants to look at all options before we do this. We want to know that we can offer them something. We will proceed cautiously,” Lammers said.

“We wanted to make sure we weren’t off the mark. Now we know that we can continue to go forward, with your confidence, to do something,” council member Peter Zimmerman said.

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