Willmar City Council members tour facilities ahead of possible tax levy increases
WILLMAR -- Willmar City Council members, on a two-hour tour Monday afternoon, saw examples of the effect of delayed purchases and deferred maintenance on city streets, buildings and parks.
WILLMAR - Willmar City Council members, on a two-hour tour Monday afternoon, saw examples of the effect of delayed purchases and deferred maintenance on city streets, buildings and parks.
Spending in those areas was deferred because the state cut local government aid in 2008 through 2010.
The lost revenue was taken from maintenance and purchase delays “and it’s catching up on us,’’ said Councilman Denis Anderson, chairman of the council’s Finance Committee.
As a result, Anderson has suggested the possibility of increasing the $4,201,028 property tax levy in the 2015 budget proposed last month by Mayor Frank Yanish. The proposed levy is up $61,294 over 2014 due to new construction values.
Anderson said the council will decide the question of an additional levy increase. He said city staff will bring forward a list of what’s needed and make the case for additional funding.
“I think that the council is going to have to wrestle with that and make a decision if we want to catch up on all of that, how we want to catch up, how long a term we want to spend catching up,’’ he said.
For projects that would have a regional significance, such as regional parks, the council will need to begin discussing the possibility of a local option sales tax.
“It needs to be on our radar if there are some things that we should be thinking about for a local option sales tax on the ballot in 2016,’’ he said.
The tour idea arose during committee discussion about deferred maintenance.
“I just thought it might be a good idea for us to physically see some of the things that we’re talking about doing in the future,’’ he said.
Anderson said he heard from several council members that thought the tour was a really good idea.
“They didn’t realize some of the things that they had seen and it gives them a perspective when we start talking about some of these things in the future,’’ he said.
Funding is the big question.
“We’ve got the needs. We can identify a lot of needs. It’s the question of funding - how we’re going to do it.’’
City staff has researched possible revenue sources. But City Administrator Charlene Stevens said there aren’t many unique revenue sources out there for municipalities.
Anderson said the city has done a really good job on controlling costs.
“The cost side of the equation: Willmar is one of the lowest tax rates for cities throughout Minnesota,’’ he said. “Our spending isn’t extravagant. So I don’t think that we’re going to get a lot of money generated by making cuts. I think we’re going to have to look at revenue.’’
Riding aboard a Kandiyohi Area Transit bus, council members stopped at and were told about structural and equipment deficiencies and needs at the Civic Center/Blue Line Arena and Community Activity Center; and at Northside Park, Miller Park and Rice Park.
In addition, they experienced the rough and deteriorating surfaces on 10th Street Southwest, Carolina Avenue Southwest and Second Street Southeast.
At the Civic Center/Blue Line Arena, Manager Troy Ciernia listed needs including replacement of the 30-year-old heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, roof leaks, relocation of the Civic Center office into the skate room, and bleacher replacement.
Public Works Superintendent Scott Ledeboer noted in a report that playground equipment in 28 of the city’s 37 parks is aging. Manufacturers say the typical lifespan of these types of equipment ranges from 15 to 20 years with regular inspection and maintenance.
The report said 15 percent of the current playground equipment is less than 20 years old, and
85 percent of current playground equipment is older than 20 years.
The report said removal and replacement of 85 percent of the playground equipment is neither feasible nor necessary. The report said not all pieces older than 20 years are in dire condition.
“Each park and piece of equipment has been assessed individually and that information can be of great use on how to proceed,’’ the report said.
To determine a course of action, the report recommended the city use the rating system from the first phase of the master parks plan, the age figures from this report, and information from other sources.
Public Works Director/City Engineer Sean Christensen said 10th Street Southwest will need reconstruction in a few years after the council pulled the street from the 2014 list of overlay projects at the request of citizens.
“When it starts to fail, it will fail fast,’’ he said.
Christensen said Carolina Avenue Southwest, which borders the south side of Miller Park, is among streets rated the poorest in Willmar and needs extensive work.
The bus also rumbled over the poor surface on Second Street Southeast between Olena and Becker Avenues. On a scale of 0-44, with 100 the best, Second Street was rated 25, Christensen said.
Finally, the council drove over an example of an excellent surface at the new intersection and extension of Willmar Avenue Southwest through the industrial park.