Condition of the city is excellent, Heitke says

WILLMAR -- The city of Willmar is in excellent condition, Mayor Les Heitke said during his annual State of the City Address to the Willmar City Council Monday night.

WILLMAR -- The city of Willmar is in excellent condition, Mayor Les Heitke said during his annual State of the City Address to the Willmar City Council Monday night.

Achievements and highlights as listed by Heitke in 2005 included Willmar's recognition as an All-America City, public and private growth and development projects, and continued city-county cooperative efforts in a number of areas.

Heitke said he was proud of the 55-member citizen committee, led by City Administrator Michael Schmit, which worked almost 14 months to prepare, present and finally bring back to Willmar the All-America City Award from the National Civic League. Willmar was one of 10 cities in the country to receive the award in June.

"It is one of the best sources of community pride to be recognized on a national level for the many efforts we all make so well on a local level,'' he said.

On the health care front, according to Heitke, 2005 was an outstanding year for growth and development. Construction of the $52-million Rice Memorial Hospital expansion and renovation project will be completed in the fall of 2006 after nearly four years of work.


The growing relationship with Ridgewater College and the University of Minnesota's Academic Health Center with Rice Hospital is yielding positive results in the development of a strong and talented health care work force in the region, he said.

"Future opportunities for training programs in various health professions, including dentistry, are being explored by the hospital and other health care providers in collaboration with the Southern Minnesota Area Health Education Center, which is hosted at Rice Hospital,'' said Heitke.

While Rice's financial picture is expected to be tight in 2006 due to the building project, "the future appears to be bright in terms of growth and financial stability,'' said Heitke.

Among municipal utility highlights were addition of two new wells to the water supply; completion of the first part of the power plant and district heating study; and approval of a long-term power supply agreement with the Big Stone II power plant in South Dakota.

The new airport should be open this summer, he said. Runways are being striped, and the terminal building and hangars are being completed.

The city continued to grow with $49 million in new construction, of which new homes accounted for $12 million and $33 million in commercial and industrial construction.

Other developments cited by Heitke included the new Bill Taunton Stadium at Baker Field; new Family Eye Center; expanded Affiliated Community Medical Center services at the Skylark Mall; Willmar Fabrication purchase of an industrial park building; Hennen Furniture expansion; and new dealership for Mills Ford.

Heitke said evaluation and assessment of the new wastewater treatment plant will be completed this year, and Willmar and Kandiyohi County continue to work with state and federal agencies on the Grass Lake Restoration Project.


Also cited by Heitke were new church construction and expansion projects, and business development and promotion by the City-County Economic Development Partnership.

Heitke said the city is in very good financial shape, and the A-1 bond rating is sound. Controlling the cost of city operations is an important concern, said Heitke, and he said Willmar's tax rate -- the lowest among 15 regional cities -- is an incentive for economic development.

"We can all be proud of the beauty of our community, its growing tax base, our efforts in working with cultural diversity, and maintaining a sound fiscal foundation for services and programs throughout the city,'' Heitke said.

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