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Committee seeks study of bonding to pay for street work

WILLMAR -- Longtime City Council member Doug Reese wants something done to speed up reconstruction of Willmar streets he says "are falling apart underneath us.''

Reese has expressed his concern about deteriorating street conditions on a number of occasions during City Council meetings and committee meetings, and he raised the concern again with members of the Public Works/Safety Committee, which he chairs. The committee voted Tuesday to ask the Finance Committee and Finance Department to investigate the feasibility of bonding for street repairs. One question to be studied will be how money borrowed to finance the work would be paid.

"Bonding is easy, borrowing the money, but how are we going to pay for it,'' Reese said.

"However, somehow we need to be keeping on track with our reconstruction. If we continue to ignore the fact that they are falling apart, we're only going to have a worse problem in 5, 10, 15 years and maybe a problem that we won't even be able to tackle unless we take care of it now.''

Reese, who works in the construction industry, said competition for work right now is very fierce because there isn't that much work out there and the city may receive better construction bids as a result.

"And this is probably the best time to be tackling it, and a number of committee members agreed with me that now's the time to be bidding that kind of work or putting it out for bids because the bidding is so competitive,'' he said.

The issue came up during discussion of the list of 2010 street improvements being proposed by City Public Works Director Mel Odens. The committee directed Odens to prepare a feasibility report on reconstruction, overlays, new construction, street lighting and miscellaneous work.

The list includes 10 reconstruction projects totaling 1.35 miles. But the projects may be scaled back due to the lack of city funding.

The city has in the past used interest income on reserves and the community investment fund to pay 25 percent of the cost. Assessments against benefited property owners pay the remaining 75 percent. Due to depressed interest rates during the past couple of years, however, the city has received less interest income.

Reese said the city has no funding for the projects on next year's list.

Reese said he was pleased his fellow council members were open to the idea of researching the possibility of using bonding to finance the projects.

"One of the things I said last night, I've been on the council many years and every year we discuss how far we're getting behind on our reconstruction projects and just continue to get further and further behind,'' Reese said.

"I feel a real sense of urgency to move ahead with the projects and if at all possible if we can bond for them, and we can pay for the financing, I think we need to do it. Right now construction is a bargain and we should be capitalizing on that opportunity,'' he said.

The council will consider the committee's recommendation on Monday night.

Among other agenda items, the committee:

? Was urged by Gary Geiger, representing the Willmar Design Center, to continue city planning for opening downtown Litchfield Avenue to traffic from the U.S. Highway 12 bypass. Geiger said opening both ends of Litchfield Avenue is the Design Center's top priority. Also, he asked whether the council was interested in establishing a downtown taxing district to raise money for snow and litter removal. The committee suggested the Design Center first obtain a consensus of downtown businesses.

? Voted to recommend the council endorse an Airport Commission request to reduce rates paid by airplane owners renting airport hangar space. Assistant City Engineer Holly Wilson said leases expire at the end of the year and the airport has seven empty hangars out of 18.

Hangars in the area rent for $100 per month with electricity provided, compared with $160 per month at Willmar, plus $15 to $30 for electricity.

The committee endorsed a monthly rental decrease from $160 to $120 for a 42-foot door hangar and a decrease from $180 to $140 for a 45-foot door hangar.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150