Tricounty News

Watkins discusses audit, Hilltop, ballfield, dogs, new ambulance

The city’s auditor presented the results of the 2013 city audit report at the April 10 meeting. The city passed, again, with an “unmodified/unqualified opinion,” the best that can be achieved.

The city’s unrestricted fund balance is at 56 percent, with 50 percent required as a minimum. There were $93,000 more in receipts than expenses for the city during 2013, with a $23,000 positive variance in the overall budget (from donations for the playground equipment purchased in 2014). Cash reserves have increased each year.


Hilltop Health Care Center now has architectural plans for the 34-unit assisted living addition in Watkins. There was discussion about where a sewer line probably needs to be extended, and sidewalks for residents to be able to walk safely into town. 


EV-W plans for 2014-15, including preemptory staff cuts

Personnel issues

At this time of year, school districts throughout the state are forced to plan budget cuts for the coming school year, 2014-15. One of the most difficult things a school board must do is to cut good staff, but it’s something that must be done in nearly every district. It comes in the form of a letter to those affected informing them that they’ve been placed on Unrequested Leave of Absence.

In essence, superintendent Messman explained, the teachers are notified now that their job will (or may) be cut in the next school year. This allows each the time to find another job, if needed. If it turns out that an individual’s job is not cut, they can be reinstated. It is difficult, he said, but it’s more kind to let them know now rather than wait until later in this school year.


Kimball approves water tower mixer purchase, wrestling

At the April 8 Kimball City Council meeting, the city approved a conditional use permit for Arnold’s to upgrade their sign and fascia on the building.

They also approved the purchase of a mixer for the water tower. This winter there was 2 feet or more of ice on the surface of the water in the water tower. Had there been a fire in the city, there wasn’t enough water or pressure to fill a tanker truck. (Arrangements were in place for mutual aid from other towns, so Kimball was not at risk.) The mixer will keep that much ice from forming again. The cost is about $20,000.

The city approved paying water line repair bills for residents whose water lines froze on the city’s portion of the line; there were four homes that qualified for reimbursement, with a total cost of about $2,000. They also will re-adjust water bills for two residents who requested it (after running their water to keep from freezing). The city has contacted most residents, if not all, to stop running water to prevent freezing.


Week in Review, April 11, 2014

Bonding packages

Last week the House Capitol Investment Committee passed two separate bonding bills that are now headed to the Committee on Ways and Means. One bill spends $850 million and would go through the normal public financing process. The other bill spends $150 million in cash from the state’s surplus. House Capitol Investment Chair Alice Hausman referred to the proposal as “inadequate”.

State Colleges and Universities would receive nearly a third of the funding including $139 million for MnSCU and $175 for University of Minnesota. Other major provisions include $100 million for affordable housing, $63 million for parks, trails and flood control, $21 million for bridge replacement, and $18 million for local road improvement. Interestingly, the bill contains only $20 million of the $126 million needed to finish the restoration of the State Capitol.

The bills also include many local projects including money for Nicollet Mall, Children’s Museum, Como Zoo, Palace Theater, Ordway, regional Civic Centers, a Duluth baseball stadium, and snow making infrastructure for Spirit Mountain.

The Senate Capital Investment Committee is expecting to release their proposal after the Easter break.


A closer look at 2014 session as we pass midpoint

The 2014 legislative session has reached its midway point and, so far, it has been a mixed bag of news from the Capitol.

On one hand, we have repealed some of the ill-advised tax increases that were enacted last year. On the other hand, most of last year’s historic tax hike remains on the books and the repeal of a farm equipment repair tax was not retroactive as I had advocated.

It is good we fully funded a 5-percent increase in funding for disability care workers. But the context of this silver lining is it was part of a 436-page bill that spends another $1.2 billion through 2017. This increase comes not even one year after all-funds spending already rose by $1,500 per man, woman and child in Minnesota.

This mixed-bag trend even extends to the construction of a new $90 million Senate office complex. It is good a lack of office space will not be an obstacle delaying restoration of our Capitol. Yet, count me among those who are disappointed in how the process was short-circuited in getting this building approved. The Senate complex did not receive due transparency and discussion in the House and more cost-effective alternatives were not thoroughly investigated.