At the Aug. 5 regular Aitkin City Council meeting, Administrator Kathleen Ryan asked its members to consider the possibility of establishing a local sales tax that could be used to support the city’s parks.
A fairly extensive process is involved in getting approval for a new local sales tax; the city would have to develop a proposal for legislative review and approval. There would be at least one public hearing and other established process before a local sales tax could be implemented, said Ryan.
The council asked about next steps, and Ryan indicated she has not taken any steps in that direction because she had not yet heard from the council about its wishes. Council member Erin Wagner asked if Ryan had developed any confidence about the attitude and expectations of the public with regard to spending money on recreational infrastructure. Ryan responded that she believes, based on recent surveys and other communications from residents, that many believe the city should continue to spend money and energy to improve the city’s recreational infrastructure.
Phil Martin, engineer with Bolton and Menk, said based on his experience, implementing a city sales tax costs money, so the city would want to make sure that the city is large enough to generate the money needed to do the desired work. He recommended the city consider including other essential city infrastructure as well as parks and recreation. A lot of people who come as tourists or seasonal residents should chip in to help pay for the city infrastructure they use. Martin said the city can set its own parameters and plan for how the money would be spent.
The city of Crosslake hired an economics professor from the University of Minnesota to predict that city’s capacity to collect enough sales tax to reach the identified goals, including building a fund to pay for wear and tear that results in part from use by visitors.
Martin shared from his experience that the Minnesota legislature has a process to bless such a plan prior to residents voting on it; if that process changes, it might eliminate the need for legislative involvement in the future, which would streamline the process. Martin encouraged the city to consider the cost of the process when deciding whether to make the plan more broad than just parks and recreation infrastructure.
Loren Solberg also shared from his experience as a legislator, saying that he thought the legislature still reviews proposals from cities. Solberg suggested the city be careful and ask for help from the Minnesota Department of Revenue to estimate the earnings that might accrue from a local sales tax.
The city council asked Ryan to talk to the city of Crosslake to see how the experience is going, and report back.
RURAL DEVELOPMENT GRANTS
The meeting included a public hearing for USDA Rural Development grants to fund a second siren for the south shopping center area and a replacement siren for the government center area. A new emergency generator for the city to use during power outages will be funded by a second USDA grant. Both grants have a city match. Council approved the motion to accept the grant funding.
Clif Allen with Moore Engineering provided a report on the completed work. Three weeks remain until they achieve substantial completion. Most work is done north of Hwy. 210, Allen said. Weather permitting, they expect to complete the project on time.
MAKE YOUR MARK
The fundraising committee is continuing to work on raising funds for the Make Your Mark, Support Our Park campaign. Lori Welle is putting together a publicity campaign and is getting some good visibility by setting up a table at various events. The council voted to approve a $1,000 stipend for Welle for her work promoting the campaign. Erin Wagner voted against the motion.
With respect to the actual funding, Ryan said they are maintaining good momentum toward the goal.
NEW FINANCE SOFTWARE
Central Square Technologies approached Ryan with a finance and permitting module that would replace the current software for a cost of $17,000 with a yearly maintenance fee; this would not produce much of a change from the current system. Other similar-sized cities have been using the Central Square module with good success.
Ryan asked for approval of a marketing plan the city will use in rolling out its new flag, letterheads, badges etc. Kathy Galliger requested that a portfolio be put together for the council to review, showing how the flag motif would be used on various city communication materials.
SEWER INSPECTIONS AND ISSUES
Phil Martin reported to the council about an issue with a residence that had water in the basement. The resident suspected the water came from the city sewer system. Martin provided a written report, and said that the city had met on the property and looked at videos the resident provided. Martin suggested that perhaps starting in that area to do the planned televising of the sewer lines with Johnson Jet Line would be a logical next step in evaluating the situation.
The next regular meeting of the city council will be Aug. 19 at the Aitkin Public Library.
Aitkin City Council briefs
• Mayor Gary Tibbitts congratulated the council and the chamber, and thanked the community for turning out in support of the Riverboat Heritage Days weekend, which was a great success.
• The mayor attended the annual Mayors’ Prayer Breakfast at Nisswa on Aug. 6.
• City Administrator Kathleen Ryan resigned, effective Sept. 3. She will be available on an hourly basis to help during the transition period.
• Ryan received approval to contract with a new audit firm for next year’s city financial audit. Clifton Larson Allen is the audit firm used by the PUC also.
• Council approved accepting USDA Rural Development grants for an emergency backup generator and two civil defense sirens for Aitkin.
• Pay request number 3 was approved for completion of the third stage of construction on the street improvement project by Casper Construction.
• A change to the structure of the city’s Economic Development Authority was considered, but the council agreed to leave the structure unchanged.
• Storefront improvement loans for a new busines, Summers Ice Cream Parlor, were approved.
• Marcia Hasskamp will be demolishing her own residence with assistance from a grant from the Department of IRRR.
• Former state representative Loren Solberg, who is now employed by Enbridge Energy, expressed confidence that the many legal hurdles currently faced by the pipeline company will be overcome so that construction of Line 3 can begin in the spring of 2020.