Mayor Loren Larson called on Garrison community members to attend a town hall meeting on Aug. 20 to discuss ways to improve the city.
“We want Garrison to be destination place rather than a drive through community,” read a notice posted by the mayor announcing the town hall.
Garrison, nestled against Mille Lacs Lake in the southwestern corner of Crow Wing County, faces some unique challenges compared to other communities in the area.
Larson said the city has two main sources of revenue, real estate taxes and liquor licenses, and with an official population of just over 210 (Larson said the number of residents is much lower) which means the amount of money the community has to make improvements doesn’t amount to much.
Garrison is also landlocked with Hwy. 169 running east of the city along Mille Lacs Lake, with the land between the highway and the lake being state owned.
This negatively affects revenue for the city because unlike other communities in the area, Garrison has no homes on the lake shore which would bring in more tax dollars from property taxes.
Garrison also maintains much of this state-owned land along with multiple state-owned land within the city itself, prompting community members to question why the city is taking care of it, as opposed to the state.
Larson said the city can’t do anything about making the state take over all of the maintenance of the land next to the lake but added, “I would like to look to the future. What can we make or what could we do to utilize (the lake)?”
An idea floated by the Mayor included a sales tax but that would have to be authorized by the Minnesota state legislature.
The city also has two outstanding debts according to Larson, one for about $40,000 for a park and another for about $130,000 for road improvements.
A point of concern from the community is the merging of Hwys. 18 and 169 in town, known locally as “the Y.”
According to community members, during the weekend it is difficult to get into and out of town with the increased traffic north on Fridays and south on Sundays.
This prompts people to find more creative ways to get onto Hwy. 169, like driving south on Hwy. 169 in order to do a u-turn down the road in order to go north.
Community member Darlene McNally was vocal about putting in a roundabout at the intersection, but a project manager for MNDOT present at the meeting said that’s currently not possible, though there is a project in the works to improve Hwy. 169 that will go through Garrison.
Larson encouraged community members to volunteer to clean up around the city, particularly on the shoreline.
“We have an asset of that lake out there, and you can’t see it,” said Larson, later adding that there’s overgrown vegetation, dead trees and dilapidated picnic tables.
Larson said he’d like to add some new picnic tables, but the Minnesota Historical Society won’t allow it.
“We’re restricted here in Garrison. It’s almost like (the Minnesota Historical Society is) trying to kill us here,” said Larson.
The idea of bringing manufacturing to the city was also floated as a way to increase revenue for the city but that there were some issues with doing so.
“We’ve got to find somebody who is willing to come in and spend the money to put up a business,” said Larson.
A problem that developers face in building in Garrison is that the city currently doesn’t have the housing to support new workers, prompting some community members to suggest building new housing should be the first step the city takes.
Community members also voiced concern about a state-owned road south of town that they say has issues with drug use that previously was a point of attraction.
“You can’t even send your kids out on a bike ride anymore,” said a community member.
Larson said he will invite the sheriff to talk about those safety issues at the next town meeting on Oct. 29.