City Council looking at 1.68 percent levy increase

NEW ULM — The City of New Ulm’s 2018 annual budget hearing was held Tuesday night. Following changes made to the preliminary budget, the city is currently looking at a 1.68 percent levy increase for 2018.

In September, the council set the preliminary tax levy increase at 5.5 percent. By law the city cannot set a final tax levy higher than 5.5 percent, but they can lower it before the end of the year.

During a work session in November, the possible additions, subtractions and changes were discussed by the council, including payroll reductions for the unfilled assistant city manager position and additional police investigator.

Over $30,000 was cut from Mueller Park projects. Master plan items were reduced by $15,000, and tree replacement plans by $10,000.

The city decided to add a $35,000 contribution back into the budget for retail economic development.

The total revenue projected for 2018 is $22,166,072, with $7,223,672 coming from property taxes.

The council expressed concern that no additional money was being placed in fire equipment sinking funds in 2018.

Utility expenses are expected to rise for city facilities in the next year as local sales tax-funded projects begin. The council agreed sinking funds needed to be maintained for these upcoming expenses.

During public comments resident Jim Jensen thanked the council for including a retail service specialist position in the 2018 budget.

“I just think retailers are doing an excellent job right now and with your support of this position not only this year, but hopefully in the future, we can continue to keep that ball rolling,” Jensen said.

The council approved and accepted the 2018 budget as presented. The final approval of the 2018 tax levy is during the Dec. 19 council meeting.

2018 polling places combined

The council passed a resolution to combine and designate 2018 election polling places. The four polling places for 2018 are Redeemer Lutheran Church in the First Ward, New Ulm Community Center in the Second Ward, New Ulm Civic Center for the Third Ward and Harman Park Shelter for the Fourth Ward.

New Ulm is currently divided into four wards with two precincts in each ward. In the past, each precinct had its own polling location.

The county has been approved for state funding to help purchase new polling place equipment. The city was asked to combine their polling locations to cut the number of locations in half. This was done by combining the precincts in each of the four wards. There was some concern this would almost double the number of voters visiting each polling site, but the increased traffic could be managed with the use of electronic polling books and additional voting booths.

Other advantages of combining polling locations is appointing fewer election judges, coordinating and managing fewer locations and other direct and indirect cost benefits.

The cost of equipping four locations with electronic polling books and a ballot counter is estimated between $6,400 and $53,200.

Civic Center improvement request

The council authorized a project to install air handling equipment in a board storage room at the Civic Center to allow multiple uses for the space.

The request for this change came following scheduling issues for locker space. During normal operations the Civic Center uses eight team rooms to serve teams for practice and tournaments. The NU Steel Hockey team signed a lease where the city provides non-exclusive use of two team rooms and was assigned and uses two locker rooms. The Steel currently pay $4,000 for the use of the non-exclusive team rooms. New Ulm school hockey teams are regularly allowed to use these rooms.

During the 2016-2017 season the Park and Recreation Department allowed other teams to use the board storage room in the North Arena as team change rooms so the NU Steel would not have to vacate the two locker rooms.

This autumn the city building official became aware of human occupancy use in the board storage room. This space was not designed for human occupancy and could not be occupied by people without installing proper air handling equipment.

The lowest cost solution to the problem would be to install air handling equipment in the board storage room so it can be used for team space when needed. The cost is estimated at a maximum of $25,000.

At this time Park and Rec staff is trying to arrange the schedule to prevent disruption for the team. The improvements to the storage room would provide additional usage space that would benefit the NU Steel and other user groups.

Councilor David Christian said he was fine with the project if the Park and Rec cut the necessary $25,000 from a different part of their budget.

The council agreed to authorize the project and allow the Parks Department to adjust their budget to make up the difference. The motion to authorize came from councilor Les Schultz. Schultz said the NU Steel draws a crowd to its games and they are involved with the community. Making these changes would help keep the hockey team in New Ulm.

Riverside to be mowed

The council reversed a decision made by the Park and Rec Commission and will mow a portion of the grass in lower Riverside Park.

In June, the commission voted to reduce mowing to the lower portion of the park as the area was frequently under water due to flooding. In addition, the reduced mowing pattern would reduce sediment runoff into the river and create environmental education opportunities.

Since this decision was made multiple residents have opposed the reduced mowing. Council President Charlie Schmitz brought the issue back to the agenda.

Schmitz felt it was in the city’s best interest to mow the park rather than let it go to weeds. Schmitz conceded a small portion could be set aside for educational purposes, but wanted the rest of Riverside maintained.

Christian made a motion to reinstate the original mowing plan for the park with the exception of a 100 foot by 100 foot area in the southern portion. The motion passed unanimously.

Contaminated soil removal goes over estimate

City Manager Brian Gramentz gave a report on the removal of contaminated soils from the City Center Apartment site. The Minnesota Strasse company is currently constructing a 37-unit apartment building (City Center Apartments) at 115 S. Minnesota St. The building site includes property previously owned by the city that has contaminated soils due to previous land uses. It is the city’s responsibility to address the soil contamination problem.

Braun Intertec prepared a response action plan (RAP) for the property that was approved by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. The city has also applied for a contamination cleanup grant from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development to remediate the soil contamination. The city was awarded $303,806 with a local match of $75,952. A tax increment financing (TIF) district would pay 13 percent of this local match.

The removal of the contaminated soil has been completed. The total cost was $404,420.14 which is over $100,000 more than estimated.

Gramentz said to mitigate this cost overrun, the city will apply for additional funding through the Contamination Cleanup Grant Program. The staff is also investigating the project’s eligibility for Petrofund or Drycleaner Fund assistance.

In other news

• A U.S. Department of Justice body worn camera grant was accepted by the council. The grant is for $30,000 and will be used by the New Ulm Police Department to implement an officer-worn body camera project. The total cost includes the cameras, video management software, digital storage, necessary video redaction software and miscellaneous peripheral equipment. This is a 50 percent matching grant, with the city covering the remaining $30,000 of the total.

• An application from Stephen Franey on behalf of MCP Foods and Firmenich, Inc., was approved. A front yard setback and parking requirement variance was requested for the Firmenich building on North Valley Street.

The setback requirement requires ten feet and the applicant is proposing a zero foot setback. The building was previously approved for a zero foot setback. The proposed addition would be built along the existing building line.

City code requires the Firmenich building to have 201 parking spots. This variance reduces the number of spaces to 93. During a zoning board meeting the board was informed that no more than 81 people work on a given shift, meaning the additional spaces are unnecessary.

Both variance requests were approved by the zoning board.

• A separate variance request from Al Poehler on behalf of S & P Development was approved. This variance is for a rear yard setback at property in the Milford Heights Second Addition (642 Haeberle Ave.).

The zoning board approved this variance and the setback needed for a curve in the road and alley instead of an intersection. A similar variance was approved for the high school’s tennis courts.

• A simple lot division for the two lots located at 23 and 27 S. Minnesota St. was approved. The building on this lot has two store fronts, one of which is occupied by The Bacherei and Coffee Shop. The second is vacant and includes 3,480 square feet. This vacant store front is for sale, and the lot division allows the owner to sell it to a different owner. The lot is currently owned by Rosanne Dummer and the applicant for this request is Eric Bode.

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