By Lynda Jensen
COKATO, MN Whether to build a newly expanded public safety building to replace the old fire hall will be posed to Cokato voters this spring, with location and cost to be ironed out before then, according to Cokato City Council action last Monday.
Currently, there are two top sites, one favored by the fire department along Highway 12, and another that was offered later in the process by the Keskeys, after the department made its choice:
The two top site choices are:
• a site along Highway 12 and Third St. East. This location is the former Chicken Shack site (also known as the former Dave’s Auto site), and what is now Excel Concrete. The parcel is owned by Reed and Emily Carlson. This property was previously offered for $2.60 per square foot.
It was noted that the land purchase agreement for the property, which hasn’t been signed by the city yet, ends in this calendar year. It was decided to ask for a 60-day extension. Murphy also noted that since it’s an odd-shaped lot, perhaps the city doesn’t need all of the footage.
• The Keskey property located at First and Century. The land is owned by Design and Fabricating, Sue Keskey said.
The decision about making a referendum wasn’t easy, since the vote to approve it was split 4-1, with Council Member Wayne Murphy voting against it, and Mayor Bruce Johnson and Council Members Carl Harju, Gordy Erickson, and Butch Amundsen voting in favor of it.
Murphy was opposed to the referendum idea because he said democracy is based on representative government and the council is empowered to make these decisions without taxpayer consent. The council makes decisions all the time on how to spend money, he said.
But Amundsen noted that they were talking about spending $2 million.
“Where is that money coming from?” Amundsen asked Murphy. “Our LGA will be cut. Then we have to bond and tax for it.”
“People should be asked,” Amundsen said.
Murphy said the referendum will only be based on whether people want their taxes to go up, leaving the problem unresolved.
The project is estimated to be about $2 million. Cost saving measures will be considered. Committee member Dean Perry said there wasn’t significant savings to go with a steel structure, estimating the savings to be about $50,000. “We think it’s an important project,” he added.
“I know it’s an important project,” Amundsen said. What he wondered was whether the taxpayers could afford it right now, with a new jail being built in Wright County, along with the economic climate.
“It’s probably never going to be less expensive from an interest-rate perspective,” Perry said.
The motion passed for a levy to be offered in the spring at a date yet to be determined, with the property “secured” and total cost finalized.
Cuts to LGA feared
In other subjects, the council discussed likely state cuts to Local Government Aid (LGA) to help cure a substantial state shortfall.
Decisions on the legislative level are still in progress at this point in time, and so specific numbers are unknown, even though cities were required to lock in final levy numbers this month. The decision will likely be known around July, Carlson said.
Carlson, who served as clerk since the 1980s and remembers those LGA cuts, said that she thought the city would eventually get the LGA back, but it would take a few years.
“If they start cutting drastically, there’s going to be tremendous cuts in services,” Amundsen said.
The estimated LGA for next year, before the reduction, is estimated to be about $489,000 for Cokato.
Food shelf asks for break on water bill
Turning to other matters, the council tabled a request to reduce the water bill for the food shelf, since it didn’t want to set a precedent.
“You’re opening a can of worms,” Carlson said. She noted that there were many non-profit entities in town that had water bills.
The council will revisit the subject in January.
Odds and ends
In other subjects, the council:
• heard from Murphy that he asked Tim Haas of Haas Consulting in Hutchinson to supply a quote for redesigning the city’s web site. Amundsen added that the newspaper should also submit a bid, being the local entity.
• renewed the liquor license for the Iron Horse Grill and Saloon (on sale) and Neisen Liquors of Cokato (off sale).
• noted that Bonestroo & Associates will increase its rates by 2.5 percent for next year. Murphy indicated that he thought all providers, including the city attorney, engineer, and auditors, should submit proposals for better rates.
Erickson noted that Bonestroo is familiar with the city and doesn’t need to re-learn anything when it comes to city matters. “They know the city very well,” he said, adding that they’ve given good service and the city hasn’t had problems with them.
• noted that Cokato liquor establishments passed recent alcohol compliance checks.
• heard that Cokato is ranked 173 on the Minnesota City’s Clean Water revolving Fund 2009 priority list.
• noted that the League of Minnesota Cities Conference for Experienced Officials will be Friday, Jan. 9 in Nisswa.
• noted that there was one single family permit issue for new housing and 54 permits issued for remodeling in 2008.
• approved a 3 percent increase in city staff salaries for 2009, which amounts to a total of $13,000. It was noted that the city wasn’t certain if it could offer anything next year, pending LGA cuts.
Previously, Murphy made a motion to freeze salaries, but this died for lack of a second. Murphy noted that Hutchinson froze its salaries. “Having a job right now is pretty important,” he said. There are plenty of good people looking, he added.
Johnson said that basic employees should be protected, and that they didn’t want to lose anyone.
• clarified that the mayor or administrator should approve phone calls made by council members to the city engineer and other professionals, since the meter starts running as soon as the phone is picked up.
• heard a tip from city engineer Eric Lembke of Bonestroo that the city might be able to secure federal stimulus funds from the government for transportation infrastructure investments, which might even include the new public service building. Amundsen wondered if the money would come through for small towns.
• received an unexpected bill from Mumford Sanitation for $13,110 for service to 95 households that were previously not reported. This was tabled to contact Glen Mumford.