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City approves preliminary levy

Police chief clarifies ‘riot gear’ request NOT for tear gas, rubber bullets

NEW ULM — The New Ulm City Council approved an $8.28 million preliminary tax levy for 2021, Tuesday.

This levy is approximately 4.97% up from last year’s levy.

Finance Director Nicole Jorgensen said the tax levy has gone up every year since 2013, usually due to inflation, but also due to projects.

The council was presented with four different budget scenarios. The question was whether to fund the assistant city engineer and assistant public works positions for a full year, half a year or not at all.

The council unanimously favored the scenario where the positions would be funded for three-quarters of the year. In this scenario, the city would wait three months before hiring. With this scenario, the 2021 tax levy would increase by 4.97%.

Council Chair Charlie Schmitz said he favored this budget scenario because even with a 4.97% increase, the city was overall seeing a slight negative tax rate change of 0.79%.

Councilor Lisa Fischer said this was a starting point for the levy and there was time to reduce it.

Councilor Les Schultz made the motion to accept the 2021 preliminary tax levy. The motion was seconded by Fischer and was unanimously approved by the council.

The preliminary budget sets the maximum tax levy for next year. The levy can be lowered before the end of the year, but cannot be increased.

A public hearing date before the final the tax levy is approved was set for 6 p.m. Dec. 1, with a follow-up hearing scheduled for 6 p.m. Dec. 8, if needed.

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The council approved purchasing $47,291.60 in equipment for the New Ulm Police Department. The equipment includes first responder kits with gas masks for 23 officers, civil disturbance riot scene kits for 23 officers and 12 tasers with accessories.

According to the written request, the need was related to anticipated social unrest connected to upcoming November elections and court hearings of officers criminally charged with violent crimes.

Before offering approval, Police Chief David Borchert stated in making this request he regretted describing the equipment as riot gear instead of personal protective equipment.

Since the request for equipment went public, Borchert received calls from citizens with concerns about purchasing riot equipment. Borchert clarified this request is not for tear gas, rubber bullets or bean bag rounds.

“It is basically football pads and a helmet and there is a shield,” he said. “It is designed to absorb the kinetic energy if something was thrown at us or we were kicked.”

The equipment does have multiple uses, but Borchert does not believe it would be used a lot. Borchert said this would be replacing protective equipment that was removed from the department in 2015. The old equipment was worn out and was no longer effective. Most of this equipment was 47 years old. The department avoided replacing the equipment for the last five years as it was a higher budgeted item and was not considered a priority.

Borchert said the tasers were not protective equipment, but it is considered best practice for all officers to have a taser. Currently, New Ulm officers do not have individual tasers.

The lifespan of the new equipment is estimated at 25 years.

Schmitz supported the purchase of the equipment. He said based on the life expectancy of the equipment, it was a cost of $2,000 a year to protect officers.

Councilor David Christian said he was initially surprised to see riot gear on the agenda, but understood the need for tasers and protective equipment. He reiterated this was not for rubber bullets or tear gas.

Schultz asked about budgeting this $47,291.60 cost.

The equipment was not budgeted in 2020, but Borchert said the police budget has ample funds due to unfilled vacancies associated with COVID delays in hiring.

Schultz made the motion to approve with a second from Fischer. The motion was unanimously approved.

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The council accepted the proposal from North Star Aviation, Inc., for fixed-base operator (FBO) services.

The city has advertised for fixed-base operator services at the New Ulm Municipal Airport since March. New Ulm Flight Services, LLC, terminated its FBO lease and agreement on May 29.

The New Ulm Municipal Airport has been operating without an FBO provider since that time.

Staff has met with North Star Aviation, Inc., personnel on several occasions to give tours of the airport grounds and facilities and discussed the operation expectations of a new FBO. North Star Aviation, Inc., submitted their proposal on Sept. 4. It is the only proposal the city has received.

Vice President of North Star Aviation Jerry Redman spoke to the council. He said the company operates out of Mankato. The company started with managers from New Ulm buying out an FBO in the early 1990s.

North Star Aviation provides flight training for Mankato State University. Their planes travel to New Ulm. The company employees 155 people. A majority are flight instructors. In Mankato, they operate 30 aircraft with 75 people. Some staff members already live in New Ulm. Redman said they are looking forward to starting a relationship with New Ulm.

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Five parking lots in the municipal lot at the corner of North Broadway and 2nd North were allocated for the installation of electric vehicle (EV) fast-charging stations. The cost of installation will be covered through Volkswagen mitigation settlement funds.

In 2017, the federal government won a court case against Volkswagen Corporation (VW) for violating air pollution standards. The Department of Justice and VW signed a $15 billion settlement. A portion of this settlement was assigned to US states and tribes based on the number of offending vehicles. Minnesota’s share was $47 million, to be managed by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA). These settlement funds are to be used for programs to fund projects that reduce pollution from diesel vehicles. One of the projects approved was to expand the EV charging stations in Greater Minnesota.

New Ulm was accepted to be the beneficiary of an EV charging station with one fast EV charger and two Level 2 EV chargers.

ZEF, Inc., would own, operate and maintain the charging units and would be considered a customer of the New Ulm Public Utilities (NUPU) receiving service at the small commercial rate. The cost to NUPU would be getting a 480 primary service to the site and the supply of the transformer, which is like any utility customer.

City Manager Chris Dalton said the EV charging station has the potential for economic development impact. New Ulm would be placed on EV maps as a source for charging stations.

New Ulm currently has two Level 2 EV charging stations across the street from NUPU. These stations were installed in October 2017 and have been used 629 hours. This is the equivalent of saving 12,280 gallons of gas.

Typically one of these stations requires four to four and a half hours to charge a battery. The fast charger New Ulm can fully charge in 30 minutes.

Utilities Director Kris Manderfeld said most of the usage of the New Ulm’s current EV charging station is from vehicle owners living outside the New Ulm zip code.

Fischer made a motion approving the stalls. She said it was a great opportunity for the community. Councilor Larry Mack seconded the motion. It was unanimously approved.

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A public hearing was on a noise variance for Lamplighter Sports Bar & Grill. Lamplighter is requesting a noise variance for amplified music on the two Oktoberfest weekends. The times including in the variances are from 12 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, Oct. 2; Saturday, Oct. 3; Friday, Oct. 9 and Sunday, Oct. 10.

No complaints were received on this variance. The council unanimously approved the variance.

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