By Ryan Gueningsman
DELANO, MN - From last year to this year, there are a lot of exciting things going on in the city, Delano Mayor Dale Graunke told those in attendance at the Delano Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual state of the city address.
Graunke said it is great to see Delano has progress and growth taking place when the same can’t necessarily be said in other communities.
“We’ve been very fortunate, and we hope to continue that with the business park and trying to make everything just a little better for everybody in the community,” Graunke said.
City Administrator Phil Kern provided an update on things that have happened in the last year, and said he focused his presentation around numbers this year, and using these numbers to drive a point.
The first number, Kern said, is seven, which he said signifies the number of residential building permits the city had last year. About five or six years ago, the city was in the 140s per year with new single-family homes. Kern said seven is a 40-percent increase over the previous year, when the city had five.
He said the fourth quarter of 2011 was the best quarter, as four of those seven permits were issued during that period.
To date in 2012, Kern said there are about five permits, and the city projects to hit about 10 this year. He said the real estate market has been picking up, and that models in developments have been driving several of these permits.
“The most encouraging number for last year, probably I think the most encouraging number overall, is $9.8 million,” Kern said.
That number represents the value of commercial/industrial construction that took place in Delano in 2011. He cited new projects such as the Ridgeview Medical Center expansion, Lil’ Explorers Childcare Center, Angela Kalthoff Photography, and the renovation of the former Delano Dodge building, as well as expansions of industrial park businesses.
“It was a very good year last year,” Kern said. “And, we’re hearing from the commericial/industrial park some very positive things.”
Kern said this construction projects an estimated 100 new jobs as a result of the growth.
“Those who have been involved in the community know that finding additional space for commercial/industrial growth has been a challenge for many years,” Kern said. “The industrial park we have now is essentially fully built out.”
He said Modern Molding just reached capacity on its site, and Sil-Pro recently purchased another building. He said the city wants to find ways to provide additional opportunities to existing businesses.
Kern said momentum has been taking place on the northwest business park, and said ultimately the area would provide the ability to add up to one million square feet once it is entirely built out.
He said the area, located northwest of Delano and south and west of Highway 12, has 110 developable acres.
He said there are agreements in place with property owners and an initial development group. Officials will be meeting with State of Minnesota officials to discuss grant availability to assist in infrastructure installation.
Kern is also hoping to have a letter of intent from a manufacturing business hoping to locate in the area.
“The ball is moving,” Kern said. “Hopefully, 2012 is the time to make that a reality and push that forward.”
Kern said, looking at Delano as a whole, it has the lowest property tax rate in all of Wright County.
He said he presents this information as a city official, but said he wants to make it very clear that credit doesn’t necessarily go to the city for this. Kern said the city is ranked number seven in Wright County, but said it is so low overall because of the Delano Public School. Together, the city and the school are the lowest collectively than any other in the county.
“The school gets the credit for putting us in that position,” Kern said.
Shifting to services the city provides, Kern said the Delano Fire Department responded to 448 calls in 2011, which is the second-highest in its history. The department responded to 453 in 2010.
Kern said several members of the 27-person department received a “saves” award from Allina Hospital Wednesday night following a cardiac arrest incident in December.
The ongoing remodeling and updating of Municipal Stadium at Central Park was also a topic Kern discussed, and said it’s not uncommon to see an army of volunteer workers coming and going, working on that project.
The Delano Athletic Club approached the city last year and asked for an upfront contribution to update the facility, and then had commitments from a number of civic organizations to repay that financing over time, Kern explained.
Progress has included taking out the planked seating and installing actual stadium seating, installing decks down each baseline, and redoing the backstop.
“It’s just one more example of the great things that happen in town because of the volunteers and civic organizations we have that step forward to address these issues,” Kern said of the renovation.
Keeping the focus on Central Park, Kern said there are 103 mature ash trees in Central Park.
He said with emerald ash borer having been found in several Minnesota counties, experts say it is just a matter of time before the pest works its way out to this area.
“We want to try and pay attention to the fact most trees in Central Park are mature ash trees,” Kern said.
The city received a grant to begin diversifying its tree population in Central Park, and said, this fall, the city will be transplanting about 40 larger trees to plant among the ash trees that are there.
Kern said the city has also applied for a grant for the Central Park building “village” from the DNR to construct a restroom facility and make it handicapped-accessible and more energy efficient.
A committee with representatives from the Delano Lions, the Fourth of July Celebration Committee, and Athletic Club, has met to discuss the project. Kern said the city should know in May or June if the grant is received.
Nine the number of inches of water the city was short to hit flood stage with the Crow River this spring.
He noted the flood events that took place in 2010 and 2011, and said the city currently is in the process of looking at a more permanent floodwall solution in the downtown area. A feasibility study is in the process right now, with there being potential for it to be a 2013 project. It would utilize a solution called an invisible wall and would provide an ample solution during flood events.
Kern said it is also, by far, the most economical solution at an estimated cost of $300,000-$400,00. Last year alone, Kern said the city spent around $400,000 on flood control measures. This wall would extend in the area of the post office, north to the area of the Granite Works building.
Dwight Bacon of Crow River State Bank asked how this project would impact the west side of the river, and Kern said it wouldn’t really affect it at all.
“The town is protected to about a 25-foot river elevation throughout the whole town by the levee system,” Kern said, noting a couple gaps that this solution would address.
Another project the city has underway is the updating of its comprehensive plan, which was last done in 2012.
“The world as we know it today is much different than it was then,” Kern said.
There are 15 community members who are meeting the second Monday of every month at 7 p.m. at the Delano City Hall. Meetings are open to the public. This group will look at the plan collectively and chart a vision on where the city is going to go in the future. Kern said there will be public hearings once things move further along, and said more information will be provided in the future, before the final plan is updated.
Kern reviewed the communication tools of the city, and said there were 3,037 unique visits to the city’s recently-redesigned website in March. He also said there are 1,389 followers on the city’s Facebook account.
He also mentioned the city’s bi-monthly newsletter and said the city also participates with cable channel 12. A second cable channel was also launched on channel 19 that features other area information.
Another project the city has undertaken is the “Spirit of Community” initiative, which has hosted a series of breakfast meetings.
“The goal of that project is to try and find ways to provide assistance and facilitate the work of the many civic groups and organizations Delano has,” Kern said.
There have been 76 identified groups or organizations so far in the city.
“That’s really one of the main things that makes Delano a great place,” Kern said of civic and other informal groups within the city.
Graunke said there are a lot of things going on within the city, and said the projects and initiatives came to be by talking to department heads, staff, and council members.
Graunke also brought up the upcoming school operating levy referendum.
“The school needs to be taken care of and supported,” Graunke said, adding that he hears people all the time who have moved to Delano because of the schools.
“They’re such a vital part of our community that I feel we really have to support a referendum and back what’s going on,” Graunke said, adding he’s not in favor of spending money, but if it saves money in the longterm, it’s a good thing.
Following the presentation, city officials also fielded questions from those in attendance.
Dick Grinley, of Grinley and Tukua Law Office, asked about the city’s street reconstruction plan that was put in place several years back.
Kern said the city’s public works department has done street ratings, and said “the streets in town haven’t gotten any better over the last two years.”
He added street projects could begin in 2013, but said no council action has happened yet on any such projects.
Kern was asked about the sculpture along the Crow River in the area of Highway 12 and Wright County Road 30, and said the project is the first in what is planned to be an art sculpture walk/exhibit area. He said this project was funded by donations and by grant dollars.
Graunke said there have been mixed feelings about the project, and reminded those present that students from Delano Middle School were involved in picking out the objects that are being attached to the granite pillars. Watch for more information on this in an upcoming edition.