By Starrla Cray
WINSTED, MN McLeod County has had an “uptick” in residential construction this year, building inspector Rob Beckfeld of Metro West Inspections noted at Tuesday’s Winsted City Council meeting.
In Winsted, two new homes are being built in the Grass Lake Farms development, and a third new home is planned on Linden Avenue.
Beckfeld noted that Howard Lake issued five new home permits in 2016, Waverly had 17, Montrose had six, and Buffalo had 47.
Beckfeld commented that housing construction isn’t “quite what it used to be, but it’s coming back.”
On the commercial side in Winsted, AZZ is planning a 1,200-square-foot addition, and Tetra Pak completed an extensive remodeling project this summer.
Kingsley Street assessments
After a public hearing Tuesday, the council approved assessments for the Kingsley Street area improvement project.
The total final project cost is about $1.3 million, which is 17 percent less than the feasibility study estimate.
The amounts to be assessed are $43 per front footage for the street, and $3,032 per unit for the watermain. Payments will be broken up annually, beginning with taxes collected in 2017. If desired, affected property owners can pre-pay their remaining balance after the first year, with interest due only for the payment year.
Kingsley Street improvements began earlier this summer, and have been substantially completed. Final paving will take place next summer.
Construction included a 32-foot-wide street, replacement of a lift station forcemain, new lighting, storm sewer repair and upgrades, watermain upsizing and replacement, and shoreline restoration. A trail along the lake was also added.
Insurance, sewer, and fire
At Tuesday’s work session, the council deliberated the last remaining pieces of the 2017 budget. A truth-in-taxation public hearing will take place Tuesday, Dec. 6 at 6 p.m. in the council chambers.
For city employee health insurance, plans are to stay with the current provider, Blue Cross Blue Shield, but change to a new plan.
“In total, we’ve reviewed seven different plans,” City Administrator Dan Tienter said.
If the city were to stick with its current plan, premiums would rise by almost 20 percent. The new plan will have slightly higher deductibles $2,250 instead of $2,000 for individuals, and $4,500 instead of $4,000 for families and classifies the city as a “service cooperative” with Southwest West Central Service Cooperative instead of a “small group.”
“At present, there is no contribution from the employee for health insurance,” Tienter said. “We pay 100 percent.”
The city also pays 70 percent of dependent coverage. Tienter proposed raising that to 75 percent.
Council Member Patty Fitzgerald said she was surprised that the city pays 100 percent for employees.
“I think it is an amazing perk,” she said.
Mayor Steve Stotko agreed, stating that “working in the public sector, you don’t see anything like this at all.”
Tienter said he checked eight surrounding cities, and Winsted’s plan is “firmly in the middle.” He noted that four cities are more generous, two are less generous, and two have similar plans.
For the sewer portion of the budget, Tienter noted that a 12 percent rate increase is planned, instead of the previously estimated 11.25 percent. This is due to a slight increase in interest rates; about 2.2 percent was anticipated, but the city’s actual rate ended up at about 2.4 percent.
For the fire protection budget, the per unit fee is planned to go up from $121 to $124 in 2017. A new ladder truck purchase is planned in 2018, and a pickup truck purchase is planned in 2020.
Winsted Township officials Tony Hausladen and Nathan Schmalz voiced their opposition to Winsted’s new storage policy, which prohibits non-city items from being stored at the fire hall.
The township conducts elections at the fire hall, and has been storing its election equipment there. Under the new policy, which was approved in the consent agenda portion of Tuesday’s meeting, the township will need to move the equipment to the city hall storage room.
Schmalz commented that it will be inconvenient for the township to move the equipment back and forth for elections.
“The equipment weighs several hundred pounds,” Hausladen added.
Tienter apologized, but said the fire department is planning to reconfigure the space in the fire hall, and the equipment is in the way.
“We’ve honored the request of the fire department, and that’s why the decision was made,” Stotko said.
Flooding in Northgate
A significant portion of Tuesday’s work session was devoted to addressing a flooding issue on the property of Ron Mills, at 621 Northgate Circle.
One way to alleviate the problem would be to upgrade to an 18-inch pipe, at a cost of about $40,000.
Due to the high cost, Stotko suggested the city pay for a berm to be installed on Mill’s property instead.
“Whatever decision we make, we have got to be careful about setting a precedent,” Stotko said.
Tienter said the city’s insurance company has determined that the city is not liable for any damages in this case. He added that he will research how other cities have handled this, and will extend an invitation to Mills to attend a future work session. No other property owners have contacted the city in regards to this issue.
Odds and ends
In other business, the council:
• heard a reminder from Police Chief Justin Heldt that winter parking is in effect. Vehicles are not allowed to park on city streets between 2 and 6 a.m. without prior permission from the police department.
• approved a request for road closure on Lewis Avenue West, from Third Street South to the west, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3 for the Winsted Winter Festival vintage snowmobile show. A swap meet at the snowmobile show was also approved.
• granted a hay ride permit to the Winsted Winter Festival from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3.