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Atwater's municipal building referendum is defeated

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Willmar, 56201
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

ATWATER -- Atwater residents voted down a $725,000 referendum in a special election Tuesday. The vote was 166 no votes and 87 yes votes.

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The Atwater City Council had sought voter approval of the bond referendum to fund construction of a 5,459 square foot building to house the library, police department and city office. The cost of the project was estimated at $902,530.

The price of the project was probably the sticking point for voters, said Mayor Bruce Baker. Given the "uncertainty" of the general economy and financial needs of the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City School District, which will also be seeking approval of a levy referendum to generate more revenue, Baker said people were looking for ways to eliminate dollars they didn't think was necessary to spend.

Baker said he the proposal probably came at "the wrong time." He was glad the council gave residents a chance to vote on the proposal. "People had a voice," said Baker. "We now know that people want to be on the conservative side," he said.

Councilman Shane Hagstrom said he thinks people want to see a project but would like to see the price of the project and the bond cut to help reduce the tax impact to homeowners and businesses.

Councilman James Olson said the "reading" he got from people before Tuesday's vote was that the project was "too much money at this particular time."

He said, "That's the vote of the people, and that's what we have to work with."

With the defeat of the proposal, the council will have to start looking for a plan "B," said Baker. Currently, he said, they don't have one.

The result of the vote, and figuring out what the next step is, will be the top priority at tonight's city council meeting.

Just because the referendum was defeated doesn't mean the need for new municipal buildings goes away.

"There's no doubt we have some needs we'll have to address in the not too distant future," said Olson.

The library and the senior nutrition site are currently located in a building with significant structural problems. A tarp is draped on the exterior to prevent bricks from falling on people.

Baker said it's likely the council will look for a temporary location for the library and may move the senior dining site to the community center until a permanent solution is found.

The city office and police department, which is housed in the old train depot, is cold and drafty. The city staff will have to "tough it out" for at least another year, said Hagstrom. The furnace quit in the spring and will need to be replaced before winter, he said.

The temporary fixes will be just that. Baker said the city has "issues that we have to attend to, and at some point in time it is going to cost us money."

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