Willmar remains a 'strong' city

WILLMAR -- The city of Willmar continues moving forward with steady management and economic development "and we should not be afraid of meeting our problems economically head on,'' says Mayor Les Heitke.

Willmar Mayor Les Heitke

WILLMAR -- The city of Willmar continues moving forward with steady management and economic development "and we should not be afraid of meeting our problems economically head on,'' says Mayor Les Heitke.

"Sometimes people get weighed down in kind of doom-and-gloom opinions and comments, and I don't think Willmar is in that kind of position,'' Heitke said. "I think we're a strong city and we will continue to be strong under the good management and direction of the City Council and the staff provide.''

Heitke offered those comments as he began his State of the City Address Tuesday evening to council members, citizens, city staff and others. He said the city begins its 140th year governed by its own charter.

"I will say that our city is healthy, publicly safe, cautiously stating that we are financially strong, and continuing to grow with positive economic development and growing as an inclusive community with vibrant multicultural activities, event and services.''

The charter states the mayor "shall, at the beginning of each calendar year, and may at other times, give the council information as to the affairs of the city and recommend measures he (or) she considers necessary and desirable.''


The address has traditionally been presented at the beginning of the year. Heitke did not present an address in 2009, however.

"We kept scheduling it and it kept getting delayed due to other things on the agenda,'' he told the Tribune earlier Tuesday. "Finally, it got to be too late. So I just didn't do it. This year it's coming back to its regular schedule.''

Heitke highlighted activities by the city-owned Rice Memorial Hospital and the city-owned Municipal Utilities. In the medical area, Heitke thanked Lawrence Massa for his 14 years as Rice chief executive officer and welcomed new chief executive officer Mike Schramm.

Heitke said Rice saw steady improvement in a variety of ways to meet its financial challenges, and he also said the hospital was on budget despite a continuing shift from in-patient business to the out-patient side.

The mayor said 2009 was a positive year for recruitment of family practice physicians through both clinics and recruitment of specialists through ACMC, and he said success in recruiting will help meet the community's needs.

Heitke also praised completion of the ACMC and Rice Cancer Center, development of Rice's revised strategic plan, and continued service provided by the Rice and University of Minnesota Dental School.

Among significant changes, growth and development at the Municipal Utilities, Heitke noted the Sept. 3 completion of two wind turbines, installation of a substation to serve the new wastewater treatment project, and the pilot study of co-combusting corn cobs and coal at the power plant.

On a negative note, Heitke said, the utility was disappointed that the Big Stone II power plant project was canceled. Not only did the utility lose $900,000 in planning funds, but the utility must replace the power it had planned to buy from Big Stone II with power in a tightening energy market.


Heitke said Willmar is doing well as a regional center and he listed 17 larger construction projects valued at more than $250,000, ranging from $3.9 million for the Bethesda Wellness Center to $270,000 for the Marshfield Food Lab renovation.

Heitke said the city has successfully navigated the turbulent economic downturn. He said solid management and policy discussion have positioned the city to absorb a series of state revenue losses totaling $576,000 in 2008 and 2009 and an expected $620,785 in 2010.

The mayor thanked Nathan and Kristal Doscher for contributions of nearly $70,000 to refurbish and buy new equipment in memory of their late daughter for Northside Park, now called Bria's Park. Also, Heitke thanked council member Doug Reese for supporting a study of city hall space needs.

Among other noteworthy activities:

- Completion of the interceptor sewer and force main lines for the $86 million wastewater treatment project.

- The city received a $1.2 million matching grant to develop the bio-science center on the MinnWest Technology Campus.

- The Charter Commission was convened to review charter provisions and recommend changes.

- The Willmar Fest board of directors has reorganized with new members and planning a new and improved 2010 summer community celebration.


- The Northwoods Baseball League has brought to town the Willmar Stingers, which will play 34 home games at Taunton Stadium.

- The City Council passed an ordinance allowing businesses and homeowners to install small wind turbines.

Heitke said Willmar will continue to work in partnership with Kandiyohi County and the Willmar School District to coordinate services and make the best use of tax dollars.

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